If there’s one thing to be grudgingly admired about the tobacco industry, it’s the sheer tenacity of its marketing programs. Despite every effort from various regulators and government agencies, the industry keeps dreaming up new and more creative ways to peddle its deadly products. Decades after it was barred from advertising on TV, the industry is still spending upwards of $12 billion PER YEAR marketing its products in the United States.
The tobacco industry’s marketing resources are a marvel to behold. With unprecedented resources for market research, the industry has developed an entire science of marketing to niche minority groups. Long ago, big tobacco companies discovered that targeting tiny swaths of the population is an extremely effective means of pushing their product on the American public. Whether it’s women, African Americans, teens, the LGBT community, or a host of other minority groups, the tobacco industry has a marketing plan to suit them all. Let’s take look at how tobacco companies target various minority groups.
Women – Starting in the 1920’s tobacco companies began tying their product to the ideas of women’s equality, freedom, and body image. In the 1960s, Virginia Slims were designed specifically for women. More recently, Camel No. 9s were released as the cigarette for “the Most Fashion-Forward Woman.” Cigarette companies have developed “Superslim” cigarette packs designed to fit in purses and promoted their products with a variety of handbags, jewelry and female-centric consumer items.
African Americans – In the 1960s, Brown and Williamson developed the Kool brand of cigarettes specifically for the African American community. The company used darker-skinned models in its advertising, which was designed to reflect the “black experience.” Today, Kools and other menthols are still extremely popular among African Americans. A 2007 study found that majority-black neighborhoods had 2.6 times as many cigarettes per capita as other neighborhoods. The effort is paying off for tobacco companies. The smoking prevalence in communities of color remains much higher than that of the general population, and quitting rates are lower.
LGBT Community – For years, tobacco companies have marketed sexually ambiguous and sexually coded messages to the LGBT community. They’ve donated to community events and organizations while sponsoring HIV/AIDS-related charities. The irony couldn’t be greater. Smoking weakens the immune system, making it more difficult for the body to fight AIDS-related diseases. But that hasn’t stopped the tobacco companies’ success in marketing to sexual minorities. LGBT individuals are 40-70 percent more likely to smoke than non-LGBT individuals. And because other marketers have historically ignored the community, many LGBT individuals feel an especially strong brand loyalty to their preferred brand of cigarettes.
Children and Teens – Each year, smoking kills millions of people globally. So the tobacco industry does what any other industry would do in reaction to a shrinking market. They invest heavily to attract new customers. Even though smoking is illegal for people under 18 years of age, tobacco companies aggressively pursue this market segment. The result is that 80 to 90 percent of smokers start before turning 18. Despite being aimed at “young adults” tobacco advertising is designed to fulfill the psychological needs of adolescents, including popularity, peer acceptance, and positive self-image. Tobacco is marketed in exotic flavors wrapped in brightly colored packaging, a proven technique for marketing to young children. From product placement in movies and video games to donations to youth organizations, the industry relentlessly targets the most vulnerable and impressionable members of society – our young people.
Tobacco Marketing – A Diversity of Lies
The tobacco industry’s marketing efforts are nothing short of genius. They appropriate the values, symbols, language and style of America’s many sub-cultures and use them to market a deadly, addictive product. As we work to reduce the incidence of smoking at every level of society, it’s important to see these marketing efforts for exactly what they are – a cynical attempt to infiltrate diverse communities and squeeze profits from deadly tobacco addiction.