Big tobacco’s new marketing push: Smartphones, style and EDM

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This article was produced in partnership with Point, a YouTube channel for investigative journalism.

British American Tobacco (BAT) — the third-largest publicly traded tobacco company in the world — is engaged in an elaborate and ethically questionable online-marketing strategy across Europe and Asia.

A joint Point and Engadget investigation has found that several BAT brands sponsored music events and created entirely new lifestyle brands that initially seem unrelated to cigarettes. But on closer inspection, they are used to raise awareness of cigarette brands in markets where overt tobacco advertisements are forbidden.

Dunhill and Kent cigarettes are among the BAT labels benefitting from spinout brands in South Korea, Romania and Switzerland. However, BAT is not unique in using these tactics in the tobacco industry.

When it comes to advertising its tobacco products, BAT’s own international-marketing principles are clear about its ethical approach: “We do not engage in undercover marketing activities which seek to disguise the source of the advertising message, or the fact that it is intended to advertise a tobacco brand.” In the same document, BAT also promises only to market its product to adult smokers. Separately, in an article on BAT’s website, the tobacco company denies pursuing nonsmokers. “We never set out to encourage people to take up smoking cigarettes, or to smoke more.”

However, evidence collected by Point and Engadget and testimony from expert sources challenge BAT’s claims.

Two industry insiders — one is a current marketing expert and the other is a former marketing expert contracted by big tobacco companies — have revealed to Point and Engadget the intricacies of how they helped BAT promote cigarette brands through the back door.

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