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Billionaire buddies Bill Gates and Warren Buffett go to China for a train trip. Rock icon Neil Young is buying part of model train maker Lionel. And Philip Morris USA is steaming ahead with a ride on a superdeluxe train as the main prize in its biggest Marlboro promotion ever.

It doesn't take a conductor's call of "All aboard" to figure out that trains are hot again in every place but Congress (which is cutting Amtrak support).

The private journey of Messrs. Gates and Buffett through China may not be affordable for the vast majority of Americans, but the dream of train travel gone by is image enough for marketers.

For this winter, Brown-Forman Corp.'s Canadian Mist has special packaging offering an 8-year-old whiskey called 1885 Special Reserve to celebrate the completion of the Canadian Pacific Railroad. Lee Hill Inc., Chicago, created the on-package promotions and hangtags featuring a picture of a train in sepia tone. (Altschiller & Co., New York, handles Canadian Mist advertising.)

"It's kind of the romance of the train," said Alan Moore, senior brand manager at Brown-Forman.

That smoking engine

That kind of romance also sounds good to Philip Morris, whose Marlboro Unlimited sweepstakes promotion is offering a considerably more modern version of train travel, but with a throwback to the old being the train's route-through "Marlboro Country," or the Old West.

Philip Morris' promotion is anything but small.

Some 2,000 people will win a five-day trip in a specially built 20-car train that includes a nightclub, hot tubs, and staterooms. Between advertising from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, the cost of the train and a related gear continuity program, Philip Morris' spending on the Marlboro Unlimited sweepstakes may be one of the biggest in package-goods history.

Still, the hook of the bygone era train is what propelled the company through two years of preparation. The train sweepstakes is Marlboro's first since the Adventure Team of two years ago (the less heavily touted Marlboro Country Store that followed had no sweepstakes).

"When you look at what the railroad did for the great American West, it is an opportunity for all of our consumers to see what we've shown in our advertising for 40 years," said Karen Daragan, the tobacco marketer's manager of media affairs. "Just as there is mystique in imagery of the train, there is mystique in the imagery of Marlboro."

Ads by the boxcar load

While Brown-Forman has no immediate plans for advertising its train promotion, Philip Morris will more than make up for it. The Marlboro Unlimited is being advertised in 12-page inserts in some magazines and three-in-one inserts in others.

Philip Morris is hoping that the Marlboro Unlimited will push the brand to new heights, even as proposals to regulate cigarette advertising to little more than b&w text ads, and severely limit promotions, are being considered in Washington.

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