Philip Morris draws fire with chinese promotion

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BEIJING -- Philip Morris Inc. has come under fire in a front page story in the Beijing Youth Daily, a popular Chinese language newspaper, which claims the U.S. company's cigarette sales promotion in the Chinese capital has hooked in students under 18 years of age.

Philip Morris Asia Inc. is currently running a massive sales campaign in Beijing at 10 large department stores, set to run until January 15, 1998, in which smokers can exchange empty flip- top or soft packs of Marlboro cigarettes for Marlboro branded sportswear ranging from watches and bags to caps and jackets. A watch is worth five empty packets; a jacket more like 50 to 60.

The cigarette marketer is also mailing smokers in the city with details of the campaign. However, the newspaper claims, printed materials have also been sent to middle school students under the age of 18.

Beijing Youth Daily sports a prominent photo of middle school student Guan Luning, who is not yet 18, showing off the printed materials he has received. Yet the campaign's materials state that only smokers over 18 can take part in the promotion.

Tobacco advertising is strictly forbidden in China. As a result, foreign brand cigarette manufacturers have to adopt flexible ways to beef up their influence and expand sales. The most common technique is to sponsor sports matches, including the country's national football and basketball contests.

Earlier this year, BAT's 555 launched a campaign in Hangzhou, capital city of Southeast China's Zhejing Province, to encourage smokers to exchange their Chinese cigarette brands for packs of 555, arousing criticism from both the public and the Chinese cigarette factories.

Now Marlboro's method is being greeted with concern by both smokers and the general public. The public is particularly critical of the way that the U.S. marketer is promoting cigarette sales in China while being attacked in its home market for the harm cigarette smoking has brought to many people.

However, the newspaper admits that it has taken legal advice that Marlboro's sales promotion is not against the law.

Copyright January 1998, Crain Communications Inc.

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