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Malaysia: & another way round ad restrictions
  1. Consumer Association of Penang, Malaysia;
  2. assunta{at}

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    In the land of indirect advertising, Benson & Hedges bistro advertisements, originally designed to circumvent the European Union directive to ban cigarette advertising, are being fine tuned. Malaysia was selected as the testing ground for the bistro ads, because of its tolerance of indirect advertising, despite a law banning direct cigarette ads. The idea of the bistro was to associate coffee and cigarettes, and to ride on the back of the ever-popular, ubiquitous coffee shops in Malaysia.

    The B&H bistro is advertised regularly on national television and even on billboards. The advert shows outdoor activities not usually found in a bistro, such as fishing and parachuting. The script uses pairs of words joined by an ampersand, such as sweet & bitter and sky & earth.

    Once Malaysians were familiar with the B&H bistro ads, the campaign shifted gear and dropped the words to focus just on the ampersand. The billboards which once featured the inside of the bistro now showed a large ampersand, and vehicles transporting Benson & Hedges cigarettes were resprayed, to sport a huge “&”. Then, in the next phase of the campaign, a series of newspaper advertisements built up anticipation—wait & see,better & better, and finally,here & now.

    Benson & Hedges' indirect marketing campaign exploits recognition of the familiar ampersand.

    In printed media, the campaign has effectively dropped the “Benson” and “Hedges” in the brand name by easy stages, until only the ampersand remains; a similar development is expected in television ads. Meanwhile the Malaysian public has been slowly trained to associate the ampersand with the cigarette brand name. It seems obvious that one goal of this exercise is to prepare the public for the day when cigarette brand names will be banned in any promotions, in the hope that the ban is sufficiently badly drafted to let the “&” get through.