JANUARY 12, 1998

Williams goes red - Australians whine

WILLIAMS GRAND PRIX ENGINEERING last week used Pinewood Studios to reveal its 1998 color scheme to a small selection of journalists and guests flown in from countries where the Winfield cigarettes - the new title sponsor - is sold. Winfield is the biggest-selling cigarette brand in Australia and New Zealand, and Rothmans International (which owns Winfield) wants to exploit the Australian image to increase international sales. As a result they have chosen a new kangaroo logo in an effort to link the cigarettes with the fun-loving relaxed atmosphere of Australia.

The launch of the kangaroo logo attracted immediate criticism from Australia, where Health Minister Michael Wooldridge expressed disappointment that an international tobacco campaign should be linked to Australia.

The President of the Australian Medical Association Dr. Keith Woollard complained that it was "a very bad message to send to the rest of the world that Australia is a place where tobacco advertising goes ahead" and called on the government to stop Williams from running with the kangaroo logo in Melbourne.

Rothmans was accused of circumventing Australia's Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act which bans all forms of cigarette advertising except if it is associated with a major international sporting event which would be lost to Australia if tobacco was banned.

Wooldridge has already granted the Australian Grand Prix an exemption for 1998 but campaigners want him to stop the Winfield campaign as they say it is clearly advertising a local brand.

Rothmans International argues that Winfield is an international cigarette brand, which is sold in 13 countries on three continents. No government action is expected against Winfield.

Although the Williams team is refusing to reveal its full sponsorship package the car at Pinewood featured continued backing from Castrol, Falke, Sonax, Auto Motor und Sport and Andersen Consulting. Henderson Investors and the Italian tile company Mirage have not re-signed, while new backing comes from Veltins, Goodyear and from Universal.

The Universal deal is an interesting one, given the plans for a Formula 1 film in the next couple of years. The American entertainment company - which is 80% owned by Canadian drinks company Seagram - is best known for its movie studio, which has produced many successful films, including the two biggest-selling movies of all time: Jurassic Park and ET. It is also a big player in the world's TV markets, owning such programs as Miami Vice, The A Team and Magnum PI. Although it does not own a US TV network Universal recently launched a TV channel in Europe, called 13th Street - the action and suspense channel. Universal also has a record company, an expanding electronics business and a booming theme park division.