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Philip Morris considers new strategies

PHILIP MORRIS - the parent company of Marlboro and probably the biggest sponsor in Formula 1 racing - looks to be trying out new marketing strategies as the net closes on cigarette advertising around the world.

The pressure is very much on the cigarette companies both in Europe, Australia and North America with legislation either in place or being considered. Even in new markets such as China, the governments are acting to stop the cigarette companies from advertising their products. This is, of course, absurdly hypocritical as the governments refuse to ban cigarettes because they gain too much income from taxation on tobacco products.

The tobacco companies have long been fighting a rearguard action against governments and have delayed legislation in many parts of the world. It is rare that they have won real victories, but recently in Canada, the tobacco companies succeeded in overturning the seven-year old Tobacco Products Control Act on the grounds that the law violates the concept of free speech. As a result, the cigarette companies in Canada are planning to start advertising again in the New Year, using a voluntary restriction system similar to that used by tobacco companies in England. This would allow cigarette sponsorship at sporting events once again.

But in the longer term the tobacco companies cannot expect to turn back the tide of legislation, and there have been hints in recent years that industry giants such as Philip Morris and RJ Reynolds may ultimately use motor racing to promote other products.

The newly-formed Hogan Penske Indycar team - featuring driver Emerson Fittipaldi - is ostensibly supported by Marlboro, although Philip Morris Latin America will be partly funding the program with non-tobacco products such as Tang, Milka and Kibon.

It is now known that the company used similar non-Marlboro money to help pay for Ayrton Senna to race for McLaren in 1993, and there was a toe-in-the-water involvement between Team Lotus and Philip Morris brand Miller Beer in F1 in 1994.

The splitting up of the big corporations into regional units could also help the F1 sponsors-hunters, as different management's will have different views about promotional schemes, and the more management's there are, the more likely it is that one will favor an involvement in F1.

Kraft - Philip Morris's food subsidiary - is in the process of splitting its European operations into three regional companies, and there is no doubt that it will not be long before the F1 sponsor-hunters will be knocking on their doors.

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