Judge and Jury: No news is bad news for the beleaguered tobacco firms - Last week’s tobacco giants’ merger ran silky smooth, but with the industry’s vast years of experience in deflecting bad press, it would have been dfficult not

Despite some almost inevitable elements of negative press coverage, the announcement of the BAT and Rothmans merger has been a success. That said, the success was probably due less to the actual announcement strategy than to the strength of the corporate position that tobacco companies have been able to engineer for themselves in the last ten or 15 years.

Despite some almost inevitable elements of negative press coverage,

the announcement of the BAT and Rothmans merger has been a success. That

said, the success was probably due less to the actual announcement

strategy than to the strength of the corporate position that tobacco

companies have been able to engineer for themselves in the last ten or

15 years.



The tobacco sector has been hugely successful in building a protective

firewall between corporate and brand image - such that the companies can

sustain heavy fire on their corporate reputations without this having

any significant impact on sales or brand marketing strategies.



They have therefore been able to dismiss most of the conventional

audiences from their corporate communications strategies and focus

almost exclusively on analysts and government. Analysts loved this

particular announcement because the deal will boost short-to-medium term

profitability, and therefore, from a corporate point of view, BAT and

Rothmans were home and dry.



The fact that the issue of exploiting third world markets has been

brought up only shows that the pressure groups are doing their job. The

media will always be prepared to give space to credible argument which

challenges tobacco companies. Therefore any announcement provides a good

opportunity to get stuck in on the health issues, Third World

exploitation and smuggling.



The desperately frustrating thing, from the pressure groups point of

view, is that this has about the same level of impact as water dripping

on a stone.



Another reason for this is the strange nature of cigarette brands. Their

appeal is largely founded on elements of rebellion and challenge. They

occupy a territory which is anti-control, anti-government,

anti-parental; perhaps even anti-patriarchal which may explain the rise

in smoking among young women. The message and tone of voice that

pressure groups use does not find sympathy with cigarette brands’ key

target - the young adult urban smoker. Indeed, while the shots of the

pressure groups may well be landing on the corporate citadels, out in

the brand hinterland they may actually be assisting sales.



The BAT and Rothmans merger announcement was definitely a success for

the two companies involved, however, the tobacco sector has been able to

manoeuvre itself into a position of such defensive strength that even a

corporate disaster of Bhopal proportions would be unlikely to have a

significant impact on its bottom line.



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