British American Tobacco: Advertising

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The British American Tobacco Company is the second largest international tobacco company, behind Phillip Morris (owned by the Altria Group), so advertising is key to its success. The British American Tobacco Company, otherwise known as BAT, is recognized worldwide through its cigarette brands, which include Benson and Hedges, Dunhill, Pall Mall, John Player and Lucky Strike. [1] BAT has sold hundreds of millions of cigarettes worldwide, and this has to be attributed in part to its widespread and extensive advertising campaigns.

Case Studies

In Britain, the advertising of cigarettes was banned from television in 1965 due to increasing awareness that it encouraged people to smoke and to disregard the health problems related to smoking. Commercials for loose tobacco and cigars continued until 1991. In 1971, an agreement between the government and the tobacco industry brought about the introduction of health warnings on all cigarette packets. [2] In many countries throughout the world, restrictions have been imposed on the advertising of tobacco products which has resulted in BAT struggling to maintain awareness of their products. [3]

Corporations such as BAT have been described as "outrageous" in their promotion of tobacco products. In Vietnam for example, cafes and bars are supplied with tables, chairs and umbrellas, ashtrays and cigarette lighters all displaying the logo of BAT's 555 brand. The company also supplies stickers which are attached to "tobacco trolleys", displaying the words "No selling to teenagers." Although this is attempting to show BAT in a positive light, this strategy has been found to be ineffective as young children in the country can still buy tobacco products from these vendors. [4]

South Africa is a country that has been seen to be at the forefront of the cigarette advertisement ban. In 1993, the first legislation with regard to tobacco law was passed in the country. This was known as the Tobacco Control Act, and it resulted in cigarette packaging and other forms of tobacco advertising being required to display health warnings. Smoking in public places was controlled and the prohibition of selling tobacco products to those under sixteen years old was introduced.

Following this Act, the South African government introduced the Tobacco Control Amendment Act in 1999, and when it came into effect in October 2000, a "new era of public health" was well received by the population. Although tobacco advertising was no longer permitted on television when these Acts came into effect, companies such as BAT had to find alternative methods in reaching the public. They did this through the use of the radio, but after a while free air time was allocated to put out warnings about the danger of tobacco to people's health. This consequently led to the public calling for tougher regulations on the issue and the law was revised in response to public pressure, resulting in a complete ban of tobacco advertising.

This advertising ban meant that the British American Tobacco company could no longer reach the South African public through these popular mediums, and as a result they had to raise awareness of their products in another way. Cleverly, they devised the idea of a competition with a cash prize or a trip on the "first commercial spaceship, redeemable within the next two years" after the competition. Those who entered the competition had to give their names, which were entered into BAT's database, and used in the future for promotional purposes. [5]

Political Funding

Advertising costs are high, so for companies such as BAT it is vital that advertising campaigns are as effective as possible. The British American Tobacco Company, like many other international corporations, relies heavily on support from governments. A deputy chairman of BAT, responsible for the company's policy on corporate social responsibility is Ken Clarke, formerly the Health Secretary for the UK Conservative government [6] and it is with the aid of the government that the tobacco industry continues to thrive. Since the health dangers of tobacco are widely recognised, the government could put a complete ban on the products but as they reap massive financial benefits from the sale of tobacco this is highly unlikely to happen. In Britain, it was not until 1991 that a complete tobacco advertisement ban was issued with regard to television, but non-television advertising were continually allowed until 1997. The Labour Government then promised to introduce a complete ban of the promotion of the products. The Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002 was the result of this promise. [7] Exceptions allowed under this Act are those advertisements that are not aimed at specific kinds of people within the British population, as well as advertisements within shops, pubs or clubs that promote the products on an area no larger than A5-sized and that include government and health warnings on at least thirty percent of the ad. [8]

Before the 2002 Act was passed, it was claimed that in order to get around the advertising ban on television, and later on radio, the British American Tobacco Company engaged in direct marketing tactics. This meant that products such as cigarettes were handed out to individuals in order to raise awareness of their particular brands, and this is still found to occur in British society today. BAT have often been criticised for not only underplaying the health dangers linked to their products, but also for targeting specific areas of the population, especially young people. BAT dispute this idea, and argue that their aim is not to do this but rather their company is about "offering quality brands to adults who have already taken the decision to smoke." [9]

In order to gain support from governments in the sale and advertising of tobacco products, the British American Tobacco Company have helped fund political campaigns. In 2004, almost $3m was spent by tobacco companies on candidates in the US elections, over $2m of which went to Rebublican candidates. [10] George Bush was the largest individual recipient, receiving $170,145, while his opponent John Kerry recieved $21,050. [11] The motivation behind this funding of political campaigns is two-fold. Firstly, the tobacco companies hope that when someone is elected, they will perhaps mention where they received money, which would in turn lead to a degree of recognition from the public. Secondly, there is the belief amongst tobacco companies -- including BAT -- that the political figures who they have helped gain power will help them in return by supporting their products (see also Lobbying section). Abrie du Plessis, a spokesperson for BAT, defends the company's political funding: "We want to have a constructive relationship with government. It's almost as if the culture of smoking is being blamed on corporations, as if smoking is a phenomenon created by multinationals and perpetuated by advertising. We don't believe this, because before multinationals people smoked." [12]


Sponsorship of sport is yet another way in which the British American Tobacco Company avoids restrictions on tobacco advertising, and is based largely on the sponsorship of Formula One Racing. BAT initially became involved in Formula One in 1970 with the BAT-owned Yardley perfume company, sponsoring the British Racing Motors (BRM) team. Their involvement in F1 continued until the end of 1974, when they no longer involved themselves in the sponsorship of the sport. [13] After a period of time away from Formula One, BAT returned to it in 1983 in order to continue with the promotion of their company and its products. Through the extent of the media coverage Formula 1 receives, the British American Tobacco Company's products have become recognisable on a global scale. In 1999 BAT established its own Formula One racing team, British American Racing. This gives the company much more visibility than sponsorship alone, allowing for even more direct marketing than before, aimed especially at young men and even children, through products such as model F1 cars (in boxes made to look like Lucky Strike cigarette packets) and Formula One video games. [14]

Another popular sport which BAT has been connected to through sponsorship is football. For the 2002 World Cup, FIFA laid down firm restrictions on the promotion of tobacco products with their 'Tobacco-Free Sport' initiative, supported by the World Health Organization (WHO). [15] BAT, however, managed to sidestep the restrictions placed on the games themselves by instead sponsoring the Malaysian TV coverage of matches, promoting its Dunhill brand. Furthermore, BAT placed ads in Malaysian newspapers (with prominent Dunhill logos) to promote the TV coverage! [16] As well as sponsoring the major football event at that time, the British American Tobacco Company also unveiled an "ultimate football website" on which they encouraged people, once again, to enter a competition by submitting their personal details. The prize for the competition was a trip to Yokohama, Japan -- one of the venues hosting a football match in the World Cup. [17] This being a much sought after prize, BAT gained many new additions to their database, allowing them to mail advertising and even free samples directly to contest entrants.

As well as sporting events, BAT's sponsorship extends to other forms of popular culture, especially in developing countries where restrictions on tobacco advertising are more relaxed than in the West. One example is Bangladesh, where BAT has sponsored rock concerts to promote their Benson and Hedges brand. BAT claim that under 18s aren't allowed to attend, but in reality this is not enforced, thereby promoting smoking in the young. BAT also claim to have the public interest at heart, donating funds raised by these events to organisations like the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society (a humanitarian organisation), thus trying to present themselves as a socially responsible company. [18]


As a result of the continuing regulations and restrictions imposed upon the tobacco industry, BAT joined forces in 2001 with two other leading international tobacco companies, Phillip Morris and Japan Tobacco Inc., in order to work out how to tackle these constraints. Together with four smaller tobacco companies -- Compania Industrial de Tabacos SA of Bolivia, Grupo Iberoamericano de Fomento SA of Spain, Papastratos of Greece (now part of Philip Morris) and Thailand Tobacco Monopoly -- they came up with a set of International Tobacco Marketing Standards which were, apparently, "built on British American Tobacco’s previous Advertising Principles." [19] The Standards were broadly in line with legislation already in place in the UK -- for example no sponsorship of sporting events, no advertising on TV, radio or the internet, no celebrity endorsements, no ads aimed at the young -- and these standards being introduced internationally, especially in the developing world, seemed positive. However, it might be argued that the Standards were little more than a clever PR excercise, since the big tobacco companies themselves were taking the credit for them -- rather than, say, the WHO. A Credit Suisse equity research report, produced in response to the Standards, states:

"We have analyzed the agreement and believe that the multinationals' strategy is proactive and is a way to improve their image. These international marketing standards partly came as a result of increasing pressure from governments worldwide and anti-smoking activists. Also, by proactively setting new international tobacco marketing standards, the multinationals could be trying to counter a number of proposals that the WHO has been working on to curb the amount of cigarettes that are consumed on an international level." [20]

In writing a report about youth smoking prevention, Debra Efroymson claims that BAT, along with Phillip Morris and Japan Tobacco promote this in approximately 70 countries worldwide. Efroymson believes that these international corporations have become increasingly involved in youth smoking prevention campaigns as they believe that it will stop the government completely banning the promotion of tobacco produce. Meanwhile, BAT claims that it is not advertising that promotes the smoking culture amongst a society's youth, rather it is peer pressure. In her report Efroymson disputes this idea, and argues that BAT's Youth Smoking Prevention Campaigns are a front and advertising does indeed lead to youth smoking. She found that in America, as many as 86% of youth smokers choose to buy the three most advertised cigarette brands compared to only a third of adult smokers. [21]

In light of health groups laying blame for a number of illnesses and diseases on the tobacco industry, BAT has tried to overcome many of the negative beliefs associated with them. BAT's official website demonstrates how they have been actively involved in campaigns in Europe and other areas such as Japan, which promote the idea that young people should not smoke.[22] In conjunction with Phillip Morris and Japan Tobacco, BAT has spent $3.6 million on trying to overcome the belief that they target their products at young people. A large proportion of this money spent by the three international corporations was on an advertising campaign showing on MTV in thirty-eight European countries between April and July 2001. [23] These ads aimed to put across the idea that in order to be 'cool' and popular amongst their peer group, it was not necessary for teenagers to smoke.

Campaigns like this portray the idea that the British American Tobacco Company is a socially responsible company, but it might be argued that in reality the company uses 'corporate social responsibility' as a front, a means of diverting attention from their actual corporate practices and arguably their real mission -- to sell a highly addictive and toxic drug to as many people on the planet as possible, regardless of their race, creed, class or (perhaps most importantly) age. In the course of this profit-making mission, BAT attempt to obfuscate the known health issues from the public by claiming: "Our business is not about persuading people to smoke; it is about offering quality brands to adults who have already taken the decision to smoke." [24] BAT should explain, then, what exactly is the point of tobacco advertising? If not an attempt to persuade people to smoke?

External Links


  1. ^
  2. ^
  3. ^ see for details on other countries' anti-tobacco legislation
  4. ^ see Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control website, 'A Worldwide Tour of Outrageous PM & BAT behavior', and also 'What Big Tobacco's up to around the world',
  5. ^ 'The Great South African Smokeout' by Anna White, Multinational Monitor, Jan/Feb 2001,
  6. ^ 'BAT in its own words: tobacco company papers show truth behind greenwash', Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) website,
  7. ^ Office of Public Sector Information website,
  8. ^ 'Tobacco advert rules introduced', BBC News website, 21 Dec 2004,
  9. ^ BAT website, Health and Science section,
  10. ^ Guardian Unlimited Weblog Special: Big Tobacco, 'The influence of tobacco' section,,10672,540943,00.html
  11. ^ Open Secrets website, Top Recipients: Tobacco,
  12. ^ 'The Great South African Smokeout' by Anna White, Multinational Monitor, Jan/Feb 2001,
  13. ^
  14. ^ 'British American Tobacco and Formula One motor racing', Joshua Carlyle, Jeff Collin, Monique E Muggli and Richard D Hurt, British Medical Journal, 10 July 2004,
  15. ^ see WHO press release, 16 Nov 2001,
  16. ^ ASH press release 23/05/02,
  17. ^ ASH press release 31/05/02,
  18. ^ See also Reference 21, below, p.10
  19. ^ BAT website, Our International Marketing Standards section,
  20. ^ Credit Suisse First Boston Equity Research report, 25 Sep 2001,
  21. ^ 'British American Tobacco's Youth Smoking Prevention Campaign: What are its true objectives?' by Debra Efroymson, August 2001,
  22. ^ BAT website, Youth smoking prevention section,
  23. ^
  24. ^