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Nearly a year after "Marlboro Friday" launched a bitter price war, cigarette marketers are laying plans to spend this summer battling not on price but on the more profitable, predictable territory of advertising, sampling and continuity programs.

The two biggest players, Philip Morris USA and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., are rolling out campaigns to reinforce their brands with traditional marketing lures.

Philip Morris is readying a return to the Marlboro Country Store. The original Country Store promotion, from the 1970s and 1980s, sold Marlboro branded items for cash; this version offers merchandise for proofs-of-purchase.

The new promotion, slated to break in April magazines, will apparently be considerably smaller than the Marlboro Adventure Team promotion now ending.

Philip Morris has never disclosed the Adventure Team's cost, but it may well have been the most costly in package-goods history. A major supplier for the promotion, in a recent news release, announced its $134 million backlog in orders for Adventure Team merchandise, and that would indicate Philip Morris spent nearly $300 million on the promotion.

Also in the works is an effort for Philip Morris' Virginia Slims. The marketer formally launched this year's version of its V-wear fashion and accessories collection in three pages of a free standing insert Feb. 6. Though the program is similar in concept to last year's, the clothing itself is very different, with colorful "retro chic" replacing last year's dark urban "streetwise chic."

Other ads feature V-wear clothing and order blanks or a phone number to get a catalog. Offers will also be sent direct to smokers, and catalogs will be placed in retail sites.

Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, handles integrated marketing for both Marlboro and Virginia Slims.

Philip Morris is also continuing to offer its Parliament Getaway Gear line of clothes.

Cigarette marketers and financial analysts say the continuity programs are becoming more important tools to push smokers toward premium brands as the price difference between premiums, discounts and store brands has lessened.

"Continuity has proved itself to be a successful way to reward current consumers," said Ellen Merlo, Philip Morris VP-corporate affairs. "If the collection is strong enough, it also attracts competitive smokers."

No. 2 marketer RJR is expected to continue two 1993 promotions. RJR broke advertising recently for a new Joe's Place catalog in its Camel Cash effort. The promotion, via Mezzina/Brown, New York, will be extended through yearend.

RJR's Winston Weekend program is also expected to resurface, though company officials said earlier this month that no final decision had been made. Long Haymes Carr Lintas, Winston-Salem, N.C., handles.

Last year, before Philip Morris cut Marlboro's price, the price gap between premium and generic, or store, brands could be as much as 90 cents a pack-a gap hard to sell with any marketing program. But two weeks ago, after Philip Morris and RJR eliminated some wholesaler discounts for store brands (AA, Feb. 7), the difference had shrunk to 55 cents.

"Conceptually as the gap comes down, continuity programs are more attractive to people," said Gary Black, an analyst with Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

Yet, Mr. Black said the current crop of continuity programs isn't being used to lure smokers but to secure secondary benefits: better store displays, the potential to gather database information on smokers and the ability to advertise something new that isn't a price discount.

"Smokers are bored by continuity programs," he said. "They get excited when they first come out, but there is an incredible amount of slippage [in collecting coupons]. These programs are really to try to get the trade excited and a way strategically to get the names of smokers."

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