Wednesday, 24 October 2012

Day 75: Trudel and Trudelle

See note at the end of this post for information on accessing documents

If you could only choose one day to attend the Montreal trial of the Quebec class action suits, today would have been a very good one to select. The witness, Mary Trudelle, was interesting and likeable, the documents were fascinating, and the lawyers were on their best behaviour.

And yet there was no one in the public section of the court except for yours truly and colleague blogger, Pierre Croteau. The legal roadies that had been hanging out during the testimony of Philip Morris' affiliate, Rothmans Benson and Hedges, had cleared off. So too had the young lawyer who is a note-taker for a legal  firm representing insurance agencies - perhaps JTI is not among her client's clients.

Because of the previous testimonies of JTI-Macdonald witnesses, I knew there would be no heavy body-checking between lawyers today. Sure enough, the defendant lawyer in charge today, Francois Grondin, continued in the very civil tone that has characterized all of the Borden Ladner Gervais team at this trial to date. I also knew that plaintiff lawyer, Philippe Trudel, would bring his gentleness to the often unpleasant task of pulling truths from witnesses who might rather deny them.

What I didn't expect was that Mary Trudelle would be an excellent witness. I had known her only from the public documents that show her involvement in trying to defeat smoking bans in Canada. It's not that I expected her to wear horns exactly, but I might have thought she would be evasive or hostile, as were so many others who have stood in front of Justice Riordan. I was pleasantly surprised.

Mary Trudelle is young by standards of this trial (58 years old), and is very trim and petite. In a simple black pant-suit, she blended in well among the two dozen black-robed lawyers sitting on either side of the witness stand. Because she kept her gaze steadily on the judge, I could only see the back of her blond hair, but her voice and posture were calm and poised throughout the day. Not many women have testified at this trial, and her clear voice and pleasantly crisp manner of speaking left a strong aural impression.

Ms. Trudelle worked for RJR-Macdonald for 18 years. She started with the company as a junior product manager in 1982, with her Guelph University degree in applied science and an MBA. She worked her way up through the marketing ranks to product manager, group product manger, marketing manager and then director of strategic planning and research (1992). In 1994 she switched from marketing to public affairs, a job which required her to be on the CTMC Operations committee and worked in that area until her retirement in 1998. (RJR-Macdonald was among the assets purchased by Japan Tobacco in 1998). Although she consulted for the CTMC for a period of months after her retirement, she moved out of the tobacco business about a decade ago.

Message framing must be the better part of public relations, and Mary Trudelle demonstrated her framing talents throughout the day. While I had thought that her work with the CTMC was to delay or defeat smoking bans by mobilizing restauranteurs against them, for example, she described the task as developing a "relationship with members in the [hospitality] industry to see if we could assist them in coping with those bans." There is a reason such people are selected for such work!

Nonetheless, from the outset, she made obvious efforts to answer the questions with a clear "yes" or "no" in addition to providing her own understanding - and industry-friendly framing - of the issues.

Health effects: not an issue that they chose to speak about publicly

The morning was still young when Philippe Trudel got a much clearer answer to a question asked of most witnesses:

"What was the position of the company with respect to the risks associated with smoking?"
"The company acknowledged that there were risks associated with smoking. But they weren’t public about it. My recollection is that internally the company acknowledged there were risks based on the studies that had been done, but it was not an issue that they chose to speak about publicly." 

"What about the CTMC Ops committee?
"At the time I joined the Ops Committee in late 1994, the companies were of the view that issues concerning the risks associated with smoking were well known by the public and that their communication on those issues would not provide further information that would be useful to the smoker." 

She elaborated on the views of her company and the CTMC with respect to health risks, saying that the view was that any information given by the companies would be "additive" (by which she seemed to mean of no incremental effect) to the general knowledge. The position of her company on smoking and health issues, she agreed, was "consistent" with the policies of RJR International.

Marketing to youth

The man who had been president during some of Ms. Trudelle's time at RJR-Macdonald, Peter Hoult, had previously explained with some emphasis the company's policy of not marketing or researching people under the age of 18.

Ms. Trudelle was similarly definitive that there was no corporate interest in those under 18. "There were enough people who already smoked to allow us to pursue our business objectives. We didn’t need non smokers." (She didn't volunteer what would have happened to the company without some non-smokers coming into the market -- the 20 year old smokers when she joined the company in 1982 are now 50 years old).

Over the day, Mr. Trudel was able to show many ways that RJR managed to reach young people despite these policies:

Export A profile
of junior hockey star
Exhibit 771
Ignore the spill over:  The court has learned that publications, like Junior Hockey in which Export A was promoted, had a readership that was 85% adult and were thus not viewed as youth-oriented publications in which the company would not place ads. Mr. Trudel asked what happened when a publication was read by young people who might not be the measured subscriber. "Let us say as an example – Junior Hockey. I am the client, and I read it. And if I have 3 children, they would be secondary readers, right?"  Ms. Trudelle acknowledged that JR-Macdonald did not consider secondary readership in its media buys.

Get a third party to do the work. During the 1990s, Mary Trudelle was responsible for commissioning analyses from Paul Jacobson on Statistics Canada and Health Canada surveys. They wanted year by year estimates of starter smokers, age of onset. (see below)

Wait till they are 19, and then ask them.  In 1994, RJR-Macdonald conducted surveys with smokers 18-21 years of age, and asked them when they started and what brand they started with (and why) (Exhibit 859))

Call it a typo: When the mediacom provided data on viewership of posters for those over 13 years of age, Mary Trudelle corrected these "typos" and replaced the figure '13' with the figure '18'. (Exhibit 861861A) This echoes the company's policy of expunging references to people under 18 from corporate marketing records (Exhibit 656A656), and previous suggestions that research reports were edited to be consistent with policies on not marketing to youth.

Export A Smooth:  Either you like it or you don't

1997 Campaign for
 Export A Smooth
In the 1994 study of young smokers (Exhibit 859), RJR-Macdonald's researchers found "When young consumers first experiment with smoking they are prone to select a brand which they perceive as having an image which is: "mainstream, youthful" (Emphasis in the original)

This study concluded that RJR-Macdonald should:

1) Select a version of Export "A" that could be repositioned, not as a strength variant of the parent brand, but as a significantly different entry. This would be done by means of highly differentiated package design and sponsorship of relevant events and promotions.
2) Create a new brand which is youthful, but would be perceived as a mainstream alternative

Mr. Trudel asked Ms. Trudelle:  To your knowledge, was this advice followed by RJR-Macdonald?
"I don’t recall a line extension of Export A that was introduced on this basis," she replied.

Funny thing though - This RJR-Macdonald research recommendation fits with the redesign of Export A Smooth. When it was relaunched the year following this recommendation, it did indeed have a highly differentiated package design. The brand with its controversial ads, was the focus of the company's first ads after the Supreme Court ruling allowed tobacco promotions to return.

Using government surveys to measure starting rates among kids

Data on starters
In 1995, Mary Trudelle hired statistician Paul Jacobson to take a closer look at Statistics Canada surveys on smoking and provide some insight for the CTMC into young Canadians starting to smoke. (Although she was in charge of strategic planning for RJR-Macdonald, she testified that these studies were never shared with marketing staff). Today, she framed it as Mr. Jacobson "reformatting the data so we could understand it."

Ironically, she had some trouble understanding the reformatted presentation. (In fairness, it's a little hard to decipher -  Exhibit 865C).

Mr. Jacobson appears to have been no detached number-cruncher, but seemed willing to reformat the data to suti his clients' needs. After the tax roll-back of 1994, there were concerns that the lower prices would lead to increased youth smoking. Mr. Jacobson writes Mr. Trudelle to say “I am trying to build a case that the stats are not really that interesting because so many started during the high tax era. Can we talk tomorrow about your ideas on how to play this out.”  See also Exhibit 860860A860B ,860C865865A865B865C865D

Well, well. Omnibus surveys can be adjusted after all

A month ago, former RJR-Macdonald president, Peter Hoult,  had brushed aside an apparent contradiction between the company position on not researching youth and their purchase of custom questionnaires in the Youth Target study. He said it would be "enormously expensive" and would "fly in the face" of the omnibus approach to not collect data on the standard age groups of 15-17 year olds.

Today, Mr. Trudel asked Ms. Trudelle about her commissioning of questions from the Canada Health Monitor in 1994 which required adjustments to that omnibus survey's standard age breakdowns. She confirmed that "from what I recall we could ask them to do it,"  i.e. change age groups. And the cost - $22,000 - is not expensive in comparison to this trial! (Exhibit 862, 862A)

Wise decisions?

The moment in the day when Ms. Trudelle appeared somewhat uncomfortable was when she was presented with changes she requested of a proposed school-based program financed by the CTMC. In a memo to the consultants, Ms. Trudelle explains the editorial changes were because  "the potential effects of tobacco use are not black and white." Among the changes demanded are deletion references to smoking being “a choice that often has lifelong consequences" and that "discouraging experimentation at these ages should reduce the number of young smokers." (Exhibits  867867A)

Mary Trudelle will return for her second and presumed to be last day of testimony tomorrow, October 25th. 

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