R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. next week is expanding its low-smoke Eclipse cigarette into a new market, Lincoln, Neb.
The move is an attempt to get a better read on the cigarette, which has been testing in Chattanooga, Tenn., since June 1996.
There, RJR tested the brand among the general population as well as "discovery groups"--smokers whose participation was actively sought. RJR wouldn't disclose whether those discovery groups will also be used in the new market.
Action on Smoking & Health, which asked the Food & Drug Administration to regulate Eclipse when it was introduced in Chattanooga, is expected to protest the Lincoln launch, as are other anti-tobacco groups.
But the FDA is unlikely to take any stance at this point, given the pending agreement between the state attorneys general and the tobacco companies and the current court case over whether the federal agency should have jurisdiction over cigarettes.
Lincoln will serve as a more traditional test market than Chattanooga for Eclipse, which reduces second-hand smoke by 80% and leaves virtually no ashes, odor or stains. Marketing support will include newspaper and outdoor ads, and point-of-purchase displays, all created by Mezzina/Brown, New York.
A newspaper ad specifically for Lincoln shows a lone smoker at a table of friends with the tagline, "Smoke that disappears. Taste that doesn't." The headline says, "Less second-hand smoke. More first-hand pleasure," accompanied by the copy: "Be one of the first in Lincoln to discover what 80% less second-hand smoke and virtually no lingering odor can mean to you."
A similar approach had been running in Chattanooga, refined from RJR's original campaign there for Eclipse. The first ads showed a steaming tea kettle with the copy, "Imagine a cigarette that smells like this." That was changed earlier this year to copy lines like "The smoke disappears. Your girlfriend doesn't."
RJR has spent $110,800 on measured media in Chattanooga, according to Competitive Media Reporting.
Retailers in the Lincoln test market said RJR told them only about half the cigarette sellers there would be getting Eclipse; one retailer said he was told about 100 stores would have the smoke.
Eclipse will be priced comparable to other cigarette brands, while in Chattanooga the smoke was introduced at 10¢ per pack more than full-price cigarettes.
RJR is planning a big opening splash in the test market, at least by Lincoln standards, renting the ballroom at the Cornhusker Hotel for a kickoff party with local retailers on Aug. 27.
Slim Hergert, a principal at Hergert Oil, said that on Sept. 1 RJR will begin in-store demonstrations, sampling, POP ads and giveaways of videos in his four convenience stores, to show the rather complicated system of lighting the cigarette, which heats rather than burns tobacco.
Mark Whitehead, president of Whitehead Oil, another convenience-store chain, said he won't be promoting Eclipse in stores because he has an exclusive display contract with rival Philip Morris USA. He said he will be meeting with RJR representatives next week and may still stock the cigarette, however.
RJR has struggled with issues over "lightability" of the cigarette, which the company said has been improved since the initial test began. Mr. Hergert, however, said he has yet to find anyone who's tried Eclipse who can light it properly and keep it lit.
Unless RJR can overcome huge hurdles such as the difficulty in lighting Eclipse and general confusion about how it works, it's unlikely the brand will ever go national or become mainstream.
Moreover, while Eclipse reduces smoke, it still contains 4 milligrams tar and 0.2 milligram nicotine, comparable to many low-tar brands.
Some industry observers believe Eclipse isn't so much a viable marketing proposition as a way for RJR to prove to the government it's trying to reduce smoking risk.
Despite an initial wave of negative public sentiment over the Eclipse test in Lincoln, retailers said they'd give it a chance.
"RJR is kind of like Avis, they're No. 2," Mr. Hergert said. "They've lost Joe Camel, and they really are banking a lot on this thing."
Copyright August 1997, Crain Communications Inc.