BAT targets Chinese consumers where they smoke

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BEIJING -- Forget about the persuasive powers of media advertising, the best way to get smokers to switch brands is to place cigarettes in the hands of consumers where they congregate to smoke - restaurants, cafes and hotels. That's the findings of recent research by British American Tobacco, which the company is putting into use in China.

In Hangzhou, capital city of South China's Zhejiang Province, BAT is sending young women wearing blue jackets emblazoned with BAT's State Express 555 brand into restaurants and hotels. The women then make the smoker a tempting offer - they trade a pack of a famous Chinese cigarette brand such as Hongtashan, Liqun or Zhonghua containing as few as four cigarettes for one 20-cigarette pack of 555. Four Chinese cigarettes are worth about 40 cents, but one pack of 555 cigarettes is sold for at least $1.44.

Studies elsewhere in the world by BAT have found that smokers in hotels and restaurants are willing to try other brands. Of the 43% who are unable to find their favourite cigarette in such a setting, nine out of 10 buy another brand instead.

BAT's application in China of these study findings has been criticized by local cigarette factories afraid that it will affect sales of famous domestic brands.

Wu Kai, a BAT representative responsible for market development in Zhejiang Province, says the marketing experiment was suggested by BAT headquarters to lure more smokers to taste its 555 product. The Chinese brands BAT collects in the swaps are destroyed by the company.

Copyright October 1996, Crain Communications Inc.

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