R.J. Reynolds Relies On Web for Nationwide Product Launch

Tobacco company R.J. Reynolds is turning to the Web for the nationwide launch of its “reduced risk” cigarette, Eclipse.

Eclipse is a cigarette that heats, rather than burns, tobacco, and, according to the company, that means it “cuts secondhand smoke by 80 percent,” “leaves no lingering odor,” and “doesn’t create ashes.” It’s been tested in several markets over the course of its existence, most recently in the Dallas-Fort Worth area, and the company feels it’s been successful enough to introduce nationwide.

“There is a group of adult smokers that are very interested in the Eclipse proposition once they understand it,” said Yvette Willard, senior marketing manager for Eclipse. “There are adjustments necessary in the ritual of smoking. There’s a slight taste difference. It’s harder to light, and it doesn’t burn down, so there are no ashes, and that’s something to get used to.”

To educate smokers on the adjustments necessary, the Internet has become a key component in R.J. Reynolds’ nationwide marketing plan. While the company has instituted a print campaign to support the expansion of distribution, the ads are largely designed to point to the two Web sites the company has set up to inform consumers about the product. Ads feature text reading: “If you want to know, you’ve got to go: newcig.com”.

The pair of Web sites, newcig.com and eclipsescience.com, are designed to complement one another, as each goes after a different audience. Eclipsescience.com, available via a link on the newcig.com site, is ostensibly designed for scientists and health care professionals. It lays out the data from various tests the company has undertaken, using a very basic layout.

The newcig.com site, targeted at consumers, asks visitors to certify that they’re over 21 and already smokers, then uses text, animation and streaming video to explain the Eclipse value proposition. It also features message boards, upon which only age-certified individuals can post. It’s a technique R.J. Reynolds (RJR) has used before, in its Doral-focused site, smokerswelcome.com. The company verifies that people are over 21 by having them fill out a Web form, call the company’s 1-800 number, or mail in proof of identification. RJR then checks that information against five different third-party databases.

Two other key features of the Web site — a store locator and an e-commerce component for people in certain states — help smokers who want to buy the cigarettes. While the company is beginning national distribution, Eclipse isn’t being carried in every store — only in the bigger chains. In test markets, RJR found the costs involved in traditional marketing methods would outweigh the benefits.

“In the test market what we found was, if we marketed Eclipse with a traditional marketing campaign — full distribution — Eclipse found its own level in certain stores,” said Willard. “We developed a very small and very loyal following.”

The challenge for Eclipse now is to reach people with the propensity to join that small, loyal following without spending the traditional marketing dollars, and encourage them to visit the Web site — so they can find a store nearby or buy online. Besides the print ads, RJR has created brochures for point-of-purchase distribution, and it’s also tapped its own direct mail and email customer lists. The company said it hadn’t used any targeting methods to better select potential Eclipse customers, although it said smokers over 35 who currently smoke “light” and “ultralight” brands were most interested in the product.

Given the extreme scrutiny the tobacco industry’s marketing efforts face, RJR must walk a fine line. Web site users must declare themselves to be 21, and declare themselves to be smokers. Once they’re inside the site, they’re greeted with very careful language, especially regarding the health risks of smoking, though the site does make some health claims. Eclipse isn’t for people who want to quit smoking, the site says, but instead for “smokers who are interested in a cigarette that responds to concerns about certain smoking-related illnesses” like cancer, chronic bronchitis, and, possibly, emphysema. The site pointedly states that the company’s making no claims about cardiovascular disease or complications with pregnancy. It’s a complex message, and one the Internet is well suited to communicate.

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