After an unsuccessful introduction in 1997 of its Eclipse brand through retail in Atlanta, Chattanooga, Tenn., and Lincoln, Neb., RJR is narrowing its distribution to just direct mail and Internet sales.
The No. 2 tobacco marketer relaunched Eclipse last month with new print advertising targeting Dallas-Fort Worth, and direct mail and Internet-only sales in 38 states. In a new twist, the company is requiring them to buy a whole carton rather than just a pack.
AN ADJUSTMENT PERIOD
After the initial three-market retail test, RJR found that many smokers were trying Eclipse, but few were sticking with it. The goal of the relaunch is to inform smokers about the adjustment period, the social benefits -- less secondhand smoke, no lingering odors, no ashes -- and new scientific evidence showing that Eclipse may have fewer health risks than other cigarettes.
To convey enough information to smokers so they could make an informed and committed choice, RJR turned to direct and Web-based sales.
Because Eclipse primarily heats rather than burns tobacco, it tastes different, produces less smoke and is more difficult to light than a regular cigarette.
"It takes smokers about a week to get used to Eclipse," said J. Brice O'Brien, brand manager for Eclipse.
PRINT ADS IN TEXAS
With April newspaper spots and magazine ads running from May through yearend in the Dallas area, RJR reintroduced the product, backed for the first time with ads promoting new scientific evidence that it may present less risk of cancer, chronic bronchitis and emphysema. The magazine spread ad, from Draft Worldwide, New York, appears in Dallas-Fort Worth editions of magazines including Ladies' Home Journal, Newsweek, People and Sports Illustrated. The copy reads: "The best choice for smokers who worry about their health is to quit." The second page continues: "Here's the next best choice."
Smokers can purchase Eclipse through an 800-number or online (eclipse.rjrt.com) after going through an age-verification process, RJR said. The initial offer lets smokers buy a carton of Eclipse at a $6 discount from the retail price of a carton of regular cigarettes in the Dallas area. A direct mailing follows the first purchase and includes a "buy two cartons, get one free" offer.
An Eclipse carton bought online costs $23.95, plus shipping and handling.
Although it is too soon to tell if Eclipse's second launch will prove more successful than its first, RJR is realistic about gains. "Our expectations are modest," Mr. O'Brien said, adding that if Eclipse can eke out one-half of a market share point in the test area, about one in 200 smokers, RJR will consider expanding sales into retail.
But if rival Philip Morris USA's 2-year-old tobacco-heating Accord is any indication, Eclipse might have a tough road ahead of it.
"I haven't seen [Accord in] a lot in stores," said Ann Gurkin, an analyst at Davenport Co. in Richmond, Va., the test market where Accord was launched in about 20 tobacco-specialty stores in 1998. The Accord smoking system uses specially designed cigarettes that are partially inserted into a battery-powered lighter, which prevents the cigarette from burning tobacco continuously. Like the Eclipse, it therefore burns less tobacco than regular cigarettes and has similar benefits such as less secondhand smoke and no ashes or odors. Philip Morris, however, makes no claims about reduced health risks.
Although "the concept [of tobacco-heating] is good," the smoking contraption is "very awkward," Ms. Gurkin said. "I'd be very surprised if it gets a national rollout."
Last September, Philip Morris expanded Accord's retail distribution to 200 retail outlets including supermarkets and convenience stores. But two store managers in Richmond said they don't carry Accord because it's too expensive, retailing at $30 to $35 for three packs of cigarettes and the special Puff Activated Lighter.
David Campbell, assistant manager at West Hampton Market in Richmond, said the Accords he has had in stock for 10 months are "getting dusty" on the shelves. "We never sold any of those," he said.
A buyer for Richmond-area supermarkets began selling Accords a couple of months ago as a favor to Philip Morris, its biggest supplier. But he thinks the high price might be a deterrent to smokers and said the product's success "depends on the advertising and the seriousness of the smoker who wants to quit."
Accord is backed primarily by point-of-purchase materials, direct mail and newspaper ads in the Richmond area, developed by Leo Burnett USA, Chicago. "We're pleased with the results of the test so far," said a Philip Morris spokesman. In response to the launch of Eclipse, he said "it is too soon to tell if [Accord] has any competitors."
Ms. Gurkin said "I think there's a niche for those kinds of products," she said, "but I don't think they'll have great success."