Tuesday, 12 June 2012

Day 41 : Market-share driven. Even to kids

For information on accessing documents, see note at the end of this post

Jacques Woods, the never-smoker who spent the first ten years of his marketing career at Imperial Tobacco, made his second appearance at the Montreal class action trials this morning.

Jacques Woods
Even at the age of 62, Mr. Wood could be described as a "strapping lad." In a notably gentle voice he provided direct and succinct answers to the questions that were put to him by plaintiff lawyer, Bruce Johnston. The morning passed in a smooth and mostly uninterrupted succession of questions and answers, many of which were focused on his verifying documents so that they could be entered into evidence.

His written work from the period, and his answers to questions about marketing today, show a detailed understanding of brand development and marketing. (See for example, Exhibit 474 in which he reaches out to a consultant formerly with from Imperial's ad firm Spitzer, Mills and Bates).

In 1980, he was selected to present the story of Imperial Tobacco's success to a BAT marketing conference. (Exhibit 299) Reflecting on the presentation today, he attributed ITL's marketing success to its approach to its customers. The whole point was to listen to consumers. Don’t sell them what you think they should have. Listen and sell them what they want. 

People differ, so selling people what they want requires a range of products that are tailored to different market segments he explained. Segmentation is a core strategy, understanding segmentation better than your competitors allows you to come with better marketing approaches and brand building strategies. 

Bruce Johnston asked whether providing smokers what they wanted meant selling them cigarettes they thought were safer. Jacques Woods didn't simplify what he saw as a more complex set of smoker needs, but in the end it seemed to boil down to the same thing - lighter cigarettes responded to the needs of smokers who wanted less. More and more the numbers became a point of reference for people.  I remember people looking at the side to see what was different in the products. ... Some people felt guilty. Some people felt it was dangerous. Probably for them [lower numbers] equated to being safer.

While Mr. Woods was at Imperial Tobacco he directed work to ensure that the package and product were coherent, and that other visual cues about taste and strength were on the package. (Exhibit 463, 465). It was important, Mr. Woods said, to make sure that the perception you had visually matched the smokers experience.

During his first appearance on May 28th, Mr. Woods had said emphatically Imperial Tobacco's policy was to never direct its marketing to youth, and that this policy was part of the reason he felt comfortable working with the company. (His concern for children is reflected in his current volunteer work with Breakfast Clubs of Canada).

That policy, and his execution of it, seems more nuanced in light of today's testimony. A number of documents showed Mr. Woods at the centre of research directed at children as young as 16 (Exhibit 464, 466, 304).

The reason it was okay to research on people as young as 16, as he eventually put it, was that kids were making brand decisions before they reached the age of 18, and Imperial Tobacco did not want to lose out on future business that represented. We had seen in prior studies that smoking was starting pretty young and brand choice consolidation starting at that time. It is probably for that reason that it was explored.

If a 16 to 18 year old was smoking, you wanted a 16 to 18 year old to smoke an imperial brand?

Projet Jeunesse

Imperial Tobacco's Project 16 (Exhibit 142 B), which researched the smoking habits of young Canadians gained some notoriety after it was made public during the 1989 trial of the Tobacco Products Control Act. During this trial, a sister study on Quebec youth, Project Jeunesse, has come to light. Lo and behold! Mr. Woods was at the centre of this research project.

In 1977, he explained the rationale to the consumer research firm, Multi-Réso: Whereas smokers used to start around the age of 20, the average age of starting is now slipping below 16.  We have the impression that today a smoker of 16 or 17 years has already quite a history. He may be started to smoke during or even before puberty and he has already started to change brands as a result of unknown factors to do with the image or characteristics of products. (Exhibit 301B, translation).

The firm reported to Jacques Woods a research protocol (Exhibit 301 C), and the recruitment of 16 and 17 year old high school students (Exhibit 301 D). The report that was delivered has been discussed briefly before in this trial (Exhibit 301, 301 E, 304).

Like Project 16, it is a harsh condemnation of smoking by very young smokers. These high school students saw themselves as slaves (esclavages), and drug dependants. Mr. Woods remains unfazed by the results. This seemed to be normal behaviour of various age groups – it was 'same old same old.' Probably if we did the study today we would find the same things.

If there is one reason that they are negative about the cigarette, it is because it erodes their autonomy, the report concludes. One theme that would be very effective in an anti-smoking campaign directed to this group would be that of slavery to cigarettes. (Exhibit 304, translation)

Jacques Woods was asked if the information was ever shared with government, to help it design better anti-smoking campaigns for youth, but deflected any responsibility to do so. I don’t know. I don’t know whether at the CTMC level they were sharing research.

At lunchtime, Mr. Woods testimony had almost concluded. Because the trial unexpectedly did not sit this afternoon, he will likely continue his testimony for about an hour tomorrow. After that, Jacques Lariviere, formerly of the Canadian Tobacco Manufacturers Council, is scheduled to testify.

To access trial documents linked to this site:

The documents are on the web-site maintained by the Plaintiff's lawyers. To access them, it is necessary to gain entry to the web-site. Fortunately, this is easy to do.

Step 1: Click on: https://tobacco.asp.visard.ca

Step 2: Click on the blue bar on the splash-page "Acces direct a l'information/direct access to information" You will then be taken to the document data base.

Step 3: Return to this blog - and click on any links.