The news that Lotus Renault GP’s use of a black and gold livery has caught the attention of anti-tobacco groups has not come as a big surprise.
There is no evidence that the team is doing anything underhand, or is benefiting commercially by subliminally promoting cigarettes. However, the decision to go black and gold could well prove to be a little misguided.
I am indebted to my fellow blogger Joe Saward, who today posted photographic evidence from Austria that JPS is now using point of sale advertising material with a motor racing theme. It features a cigarette packet with wheels, on a grid, and the phrase ‘The Legend.’ A happy co-incidence? Blatant opportunism by Imperial Tobacco? Or something else?
When Tony Fernandes first announced that Lotus Racing was returning to F1 I am sure that most non-smokers – like myself – naively assumed that the JPS brand was either dead and buried, or only available in a few far flung markets.
After Lotus Renault GP revealed that it was going to run in black and gold Fernandes was surprisingly quick to capitulate and announce that his team would stay in green and yellow. He claimed that he hadn’t realised that JPS was still on sale, and anticipated trouble.
“With many people complaining that I may be promoting a cigarette brand that’s still in existence, I think we may be wise to go back to green,” he told me in December. “We’re not silly and emotional and childish about it. We always wanted to be the green team. We thought for a change we’d give black and gold a run, whether it’s co-incidence or they copied, they came out with the same concept.”
Meanwhile Lotus Renault GP pushed ahead with its plans.
A little research reveals that the JPS brand is far from moribund or a relic of the 70s and 80s. In fact it is hugely important to Imperial Tobacco, whose portfolio of brands includes recent former F1 sponsors West and Gauloises Blondes.
Indeed corporate presentations from late last year detail that since 2006 sales of JPS have risen by 58%, or 116% in Germany alone. JPS has become Imperial’s biggest brand in Germany, with a 9.3% market share.
As a demonstration of how important the JPS brand is to Imperial in Europe and Australasia, here are some examples of marketing developments in Germany that the company quotes:
Players Edition: September 2009
Soft Pack: November 2009
Ice: July 2010
Design Yellow and Black: July 2010
The timing of that latter development is intriguing, to say the least. In addition, Imperial trumpets the following JPS data:
Global volumes continue to grow more than 10% p.a.
Germany: 9.9% spot share in August
UK: 5.9% spot share in July
– JPS Silver at 5.2%
– biggest King Size smooth brand in the economy sector
Australia: share up to 2.6% in August; growing rapidly
New Zealand: rapid progress
Summing up, chief executive Alison Cooper (no relation!) said: “JPS has delivered another outstanding performance this year with the UK, Germany, Australia, Portugal and New Zealand all contributing. Since 2006, the brand’s cigarette volumes have grown at a compound rate of 12 per cent whilst in Germany, where 44 per cent of the brand’s volumes are sold, compound annual growth of 21 per cent has been achieved since 2006, it’s a great success story of a quality brand at an affordable price.”
And Mike Ashton, head of performance planning, said: “There’s more to come from JPS and we’re very confident that the brand can maintain its growth rate. JPS has heritage and yet it maintains a clear, uncluttered style which is very much appreciated by value consumers.”
The bottom line is that Imperial is giving JPS a massive push, and thus Lotus Renault GP’s decision to revive perhaps the most iconic livery in motor sport history must have come as a welcome bonus.
It would be naive to suggest that public won’t in some way connect the current car with F1 glories of the past, even without JPS logos appearing. After all Philip Morris continues to pump millions into Ferrari on the basis that it is still perceived as a Marlboro car.
As I said there is no evidence that the Lotus Renault GP livery has any sinister connotations – although another co-incidence is that Imperial has a major presence in Poland and Russia, home countries of the drivers.
But given that Imperial is now using motor racing in its promotion materials, the team may be well advised to review the situation.
The irony is that Dany Bahar has criticised Tony Fernandes for promoting Lotus, a brand with which he has no formal connection – and Lotus Renault GP is in danger of doing something similar…