Document Type : Research Articles
Faculty of Public Health, Mahidol University, Bangkok, Thailand.
Center of Excellence on Environmental Health and Toxicology, Bangkok, Thailand.
Tobacco Control Research and Knowledge Management Center, Bangkok, Thailand.
Institute for Health & Aging, Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences, University of California, San Francisco, California, USA.
Background: Tobacco companies and their associated businesses know that placement – where one can see and purchase their products – is critical to their success. Placement is one of the four fundamental Ps of marketing along with product, price and promotion. Placement includes identifying retail locations in important places such as in shopping districts, within neighborhoods, near schools, at beaches, and in parks. In Southeast Asia, counteracting tobacco company placement strategies that result in market penetration is essential to advancing the endgame, namely ending tobacco use. However, in Southeast Asia research on the placement of tobacco products has been limited. Objectives: We undertook to analyze how Philip Morris International (PMI) through its subsidiary Philip Morris Asia Inc. (PMAI), from the time the company entered Thailand’s market once it was forced open in 1990, developed its successful product placement strategies and tactics. Methods: We examined over 4,000 PMI and PMAI internal documents using an historical, iterative and thematic approach. We analyzed the most relevant and illuminating documents, particularly those in which PMAI discussed retailer supply, retailer acceptance and retailer cooperation. Results: Even before foreign tobacco brands were legally allowed to be sold in Thailand, PMAI was already doing customer research in Thailand. In 1989, PMAI conducted a study of potential Thai customers in which 24% of respondents’ lack of availability (i.e., product placement) was one of the main reasons for not smoking PMI’s products. Based on these findings, PMAI engaged in intensive internal efforts to address the placement barrier to gain share. PMAI placed considerable emphasis on “stimulating retail trade acceptance” by making payments to retailers who met agreed upon and contracted product sales targets. PMAI’s initial successes incentivizing Thai retailers by essentially buying prime retail space for placement of their brands, to crowd out local and other foreign brands, became the foundation of what evolved into a sophisticated program to make placement highly lucrative for retailers. Conclusion: PMAI viewed aggressive product placement as essential to success as a new entrant in Thailand, and their product placement strategies contributed substantially to capturing a large share of the market. Therefore, endgame strategies must focus on restricting product placement through surveillance of tobacco industry legal, investment and retailer actions and through stricter tobacco retailer licensing requirements and penalties.