Tobacco industry sponsorship of sporting events

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation. Help expose the truth about the tobacco industry.

Sports and event sponsorship, termed "event marketing" by the tobacco industry, are extremely important for tobacco companies, as revealed by a 1989 speech found in the R.J. Reynolds document collection. Some of the reasons this type of promotion is so valuable are far less obvious, though. This speech reveals why the industry covets this particular form of promotion so highly. Some obvious reasons are, first, that event marketing creates a moment in which their consumers are "most vulnerable":

The events are highly involving. Attendees become part of the activity. It catches the consumers when they are most vulnerable...when they are enjoying a favorite past time.

Event sponsorship also allows the tobacco firms to closely target their markets:

...our efforts are much more efficient and effective if we target to groups with a propensity to use our brands. The Hispanic task force, Black initiatives and the Anglo young adult smoker group are but a few of these micromarketing efforts...

Another reason for the value of sports sponsorship is the reinforcement of "brand image" attributes (attributes of the Marlboro Man or Joe Camel) like "independence," "toughness," "coolness," "smoothness," etc. that can occur at these events, many of which are male-targeted.

Event marketing also allows the companies to access some of the heaviest users of tobacco products, since those who attend motor events tend to have a higher incidence of smoking:

...Our sports marketing programs are also able to lock in the heavy users of our products. Going into our situations, we know that the body of fans and attendees at our events have an unusually high incidence of smoking."

Sponsorship of sporting events has also long given tobacco companies a "totally unrestricted" venue in which to give away free samples of their addictive products, something which is increasingly difficult for them to find as more countries pass laws restricting cigarette sampling.

But the less obvious, and more insidious reasons for this type of sponsorship exist. Massive sponsorship of sporting events helps these companies improve employee morale, which suffers as dislike of tobacco industry behavior intensifies:

"... R.J. Reynolds employees are proud of our involvement in activities such as the Nascar Winston Cup Series and the Vantage Gold Championship. These programs pay huge dividends in improving the morale of our employees and give them something to be proud of considering the increasingly difficult climate for our industry..."

Sporting events also allow the tobacco companies to deliver golden opportunities to "put a politician in front of" huge crowds, something which ingratiates politicians to tobacco companies:

Finally, the political contacts we have made in sports marketing have proven invaluable. Just think about it...Reynolds sponsors over 2,400 events a year. That translates into 2,400 opportunities to put a politician in front of anywhere from 3,000 to 200,000 potential voters. An opportunity provided by Reynolds that's too good to be true for the politician...

Sporting event sponsorship also helps tobacco companies turn fans and large motorsports associations into allies whom they effectively mobilize to help fight tobacco control legislation:

The owners of our facilities and the key players in the sanctioning bodies have also gone to bat for us when unfavorable legislation was introduced. Nascar alone has been instrumental in killing tax increases in both Florida and Alabama...We intend to call on these people with increasing frequency as the environment gets tougher. We expect they will respond with their usual enthusiasm for our company and our industry ...[1]

References

  1. R.J. Reynolds In the Early 1970s (700000), Special Events Was Not Noted for Its Sophistication,...Very Little Thought Was Given to Market Segmentation, Demographics or Psychographics Speech. May 1989. 17 pp. R.J. Reynolds Bates No. 507408467/8483
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Additional recommended search terms:"Formula One", Nascar, rodeo, etc., combined with "sponsorship" and "confidential."