163449 And they told two friends, and so on, and so on: RJ Reynolds' viral marketing of Eclipse

Monday, November 5, 2007: 1:15 PM

Stacey J. Anderson, PhD , Division of Epidemiology and Public Health, University of Nottingham, Nottingham, United Kingdom
Pamela Ling, MD, MPH , Division of General Internal Medicine, University of California, San Francisco, San Francisco, CA
Objective: To explore RJ Reynolds' viral marketing strategies for Eclipse cigarettes. Methods: Analysis of previously secret tobacco industry documents and multimedia materials. Results: The failure of RJ Reynolds' (RJR) 1988 “smokeless” cigarette, Premier, was in part due to widespread bad word-of-mouth about the product's flavor, quality, and difficulty of use. Learning from this experience, in 1994 RJR introduced an updated version of Premier, the ostensibly “reduced-risk” Eclipse cigarette. RJR promoted Eclipse through several viral marketing channels: 1) focus groups in which participants would be motivated to spread the word about Eclipse prior to market release; 2) promotional videos that incorporated positive feedback from test group participants as a means of portraying majority consensus among brand triers; 3) Tupperware-like parties for the brand in which participants received samples to pass around in their social circles; and 4) the Eclipse website's bulletin board as a forum for potential users to discuss the brand in their own words. These forms of viral marketing targeted the brand's likeliest adopters, recruited informal representatives of the product who were not affiliated with RJR, and controlled the information spread about the product. Conclusions: Viral marketing techniques may be more effective than mass media to promote new products such as Eclipse. Such techniques help evade the mass rejection that could follow mass promotion. Further, they circumvent current marketing restrictions and potentially allow tobacco companies to avoid liability for health claims. Cigarette manufacturers must be held accountable for making health claims through all promotional activities including viral marketing.

Learning Objectives:
- Describe the principles of viral marketing - Recognize four different channels used for viral marketing of the Eclipse cigarette - Discuss how tobacco advertising policies can be circumvented using viral marketing

Keywords: Tobacco Control, Tobacco Industry

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Any relevant financial relationships? No
Any institutionally-contracted trials related to this submission?

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.