Last issue we outlined Gallaher’s efforts to ignite sales of its failing ciggy brands through motorsport. Lo and behold, we’ve since received a call from a former Gallaher sales rep who drove a silver XR GT. His recollections and insights are fascinating. Plus a wrap-up of the auction action.
Last issue we outlined Gallaher International (Australia) Ltd’s efforts to ignite sales of its failing cigarette brands through sponsorship of motor racing. That effort included title-sponsorship of the fledgling Bathurst 500 production car race in the mid 1960s and the accompanying sales fleet of Gallaher Falcon XR GTs.
Ordering eight XR GTs in its corporate silver and applying Gallaher GT King Size Filters signage ensured its sales reps stood out on the road. But it couldn’t save Gallaher’s Aussie operations, with the company stubbed out in March 1968, just six months after the ’67 Gallaher 500.
We put the call out in that story for ex-Gallaher employees, ideally one of the reps entrusted with a silver beast back in ’67, to contact us with his recollections. Truth be known, we didn’t think we’d hear a peep. After all, with this all playing out 50 years ago, surely cigarette company sales reps were heavy smokers and thus unlikely to be still with us in 2017.
Lo and behold, we received a call from former Gallaher sales rep Allan Scott, 75, soon after issue #96 hit newsagencies. We are indebted to his brother, Bruce Scott, who spotted our request and pointed Allan in our direction.
“My brother Bruce is a petrolhead, but I am not. The car I drive now is a Camry, so that really tells it all,” Allan laughs. “I was also a non-smoker working for a tobacco company, but that didn’t seem to worry them when I went for an interview!
“I’d been overseas for a couple of years and came back to Australia in time for Christmas ’66 and was looking around for a job. In early 1967, I got a job with Gallaher.
“The traditional rep’s car is a stationwagon and that’s what I had when I started. I was only there a few months when the boss told me to come in Monday and pick up my new GT. Any brand new car is great, but these were something else. It was a lot of fun to drive and they were well appointed inside.”
Allan says the cars turned heads wherever they went.
“Every sales rep with a territory had one of these silver Falcons and the idea was that there would be one in every territory in Sydney to get maximum exposure. My territory was the inner west – Newtown, Marrickville, Canterbury, etc. When the TV campaign started, that made the connection with the product, which led into the Gallaher 500 at Bathurst.
“The whole sales staff went up to Bathurst for the 500 and I remember before the race us eight sales reps driving the eight Falcons around the track with tens of thousands of people cheering us. It was hilarious; a real eye-opener.
“We all stayed at Lithgow in a motel and drove up to Bathurst.
“I remember at one function we were at, the Mayor of Bathurst and the general manager of Gallaher were slapping each other on the back and declaring that it was all going to be bigger and better next year and that Gallaher was going to build a factory at Bathurst, blah, blah, blah, bullshit, bullshit, bullshit...
“I remember on another day taking all the cars out to Warwick Farm for a motor race.
“The Falcon was a lot of fun to drive; the job was a lot of fun. Once I drove it out to Dubbo and between Wellington and Dubbo I looked down at the speedo and I was doing 100 – that’s 100 miles per hour – and it wasn’t a big deal on a straight road with no traffic. I had no intention of doing it.”
Cruising in a grand tourer at highspeed between rural centres is not the only aspect of Allan’s job that was an accepted practice in the 1960s that’s long been considered anti-social.
“A lot of promotional work we did involved hanging out and drinking. And we had to get these cars back home with grog under your belt. When you look back at those pre-RBT times you shake your head, but that
was the culture of the time. We did it because everyone did it.”
Allan confirms that the silver Gallaher XR GTs had extra security features over the regular models.
“You had to carry your samples, point-of-sale stuff, signs and some stock. So the Falcon had a big boot so that was good and the eight cars had alarmed locks on the rear three-quarter panels where the boot was, long before cars had alarms. You might have five grand’s worth of fags in the back so they were alarmed in case the cars were broken into. So whenever you opened the boot you had to turn the alarm off and then turn it back on when you shut it.”
Gallaher’s promotional efforts sound like a recipe for sales success, but the reality was different, Allan says.
“Gallaher was a major British tobacco company. By the time they decided to start up operations in Australia, the brands that made them rich in the UK, like Benson & Hedges, were already licensed here to other companies. For some reason they were determined to get into the Australian market, but because they didn’t have any brands they had to introduce or invent new ones to the market – like Gallaher, which nobody bought.
“Money didn’t seem to be a problem as they bought a site in Rydalmere and built a factory that made cigarettes. There was an administration building too. The company must have haemorrhaged money from day one.
“They had sent an Englishman out to run it, a charming Pom, full of bullshit. The marketing whiz kids from the ad agency convinced him to build the brand around motor racing – which Gallaher already had a connection with via sponsoring the Bathurst race – and would appeal to young people and the revheads. So the advertising whizkids came up with the GT concept.
“The idea was to connect these silver beasts with the TV campaign and the race sponsorship. The TV ads had young people smoking Gallaher in Monte Carlo. It was all good in theory, but it didn’t work. It was all too crude and the young people didn’t ‘buy it’ all and therefore didn’t buy Gallaher cigarettes. They could see through it all, they thought it was bullshit and they were right. The car enthusiasts didn’t race out and buy the cigarettes because they thought they’d look like dickheads if they did.”
The Monte Carlo-theme may not have connected with the target audience but it did appeal to one market niche.
“Ironically, one of the best outlets for cigarettes sales in my territory was the canteen at Prince Alfred Hospital because all the nurses used to smoke like chimneys. We sold thousands there.”
Allan worked for the company for a year and got to drive Gallaher’s other promotional car – one better reflecting the Monte Carlo lifestyle image it was trying to cultivate.
“Gallaher also bought a red Ferrari GT model for use in in-store promotions. That was an example of the money they threw at it all. It was quite a fun place to work. Especially when you’re 25 and the boss tells you, as part of a pre-Christmas shopfront promotion, to drive the Ferrari from Rydalmere to Bathurst.
“All good things have to come to an end, though. It was wild ride and before long the party ended.”