The tobacco industry knows all about you. Male or female, young or old, what ever race, ethnicity, social group or demographic you belong to, they are trying to figure you out. You are their target, and you might not even smoke…yet. Take the tobacco industry giant Philip Morris, for example. They were, and still are, experts at visualizing how to get you to try that first cigarette and what it will take to keep you coming back to their products.
Back in the day, it was easy to get people to smoke. During World Wars I & II the tobacco industry provided free smokes for the boys fighting “over there” and encouraged those at home to do their part to support them by sending them smokes and buy some for themselves. Doctors were used in ads because they were trusted members of the community, and if they smoked then cigarettes must be safe. More women began to pick up the habit as they watched the glamorous Hollywood starlets smoke on screen and in movie magazines. But over time news articles were tying cigarettes to lung cancer. The market share dropped and it wasn’t as easy to just market your tobacco product to everyone, you had to find a niche. Philip Morris makers of Marlboro, which was originally marketed to women because of the filter, needed a boost to bring sales back up. When the Marlboro cowboy was introduced, men picked up the brand and sales skyrocketed. But it seemed to leave women out and Philip Morris needed something to grab that market share. The company introduced Virginia Slims in 1968, a cigarette specifically for women, but sales weren’t as good as they hoped. In the early 1990s Philip Morris looked into the situation and came up with four categories of the “young adult female smoker” to order to help them understand women’s buying habits and sell more cigarettes.
There was the “90s Traditionalists”: married, into her family and bargain hunting, but able to express her own opinions. The “Uptown Girls” were on the cutting edge of fashion, like to shop and party, go to bars and “meet hot guys”. There were the “Wallflowers”: on the outside looking in, wanting to fit into a group but don’t, but they are still smoking. And finally there are the “Mavericks”: women who were “not into the feminine image,” they are primarily white, single, employed part-time,” but value “financial and personal independence.” They are also very pro-smoking and won’t be told what to do. As different as all these groups were, they had one thing in common: they all smoked Marlboros over other brands, as much as 10 times more, and the tobacco company wanted to understand why they smoked a cigarette marketed to men instead of one for women.
The one thing the tobacco company surmised is that the women in each group were showing their independence, their freedom and individualism, which is “a core value of American society.” The tobacco industry has also fostered that idea of freedom to smoke if you want. But this freedom and individualism is also used against you by the tobacco industry. While it is your choice to smoke, and the tobacco industry encourages you to do so, if you get lung cancer, it is also your fault. The tobacco industry is great at manipulating you to use an addictive product by using their advertisements to draw you into their form of reality, or should we say fantasy. They don’t target adults, because most adults can chose to be whatever they want; they target youth who are looking for some group to belong, to be that person they fantasize themselves to be.
The fantasy of the Marlboro cowboy is still an iconic image for many, but changes have been made through the years. He doesn’t smoke much in magazines ads anymore, but you might catch him smoking in direct mailings or emails sent to subscribers’ homes. In fact, you may not see him at all as more ads are promoting Marlboro’s latest sweepstakes and providing seasonal giveaways without a single horse, rider or cigarette in sight. And while Philip Morris pegged women into their various categories, they don’t appear to be featuring or even mentioning them in any ads, as seen in this direct mailing sent out to subscribers at the right.
The tobacco industry has spent millions to conduct studies to pigeon-hole people, in this case women, into the neat little categories they visualize. And whether smokers are lighting up a “woman’s” or “man’s” cigarette, they are getting hooked into using a product that will cause them disease and shorten their life. Is this the fantasy you visualized before you started smoking?
Click HERE to read The Real Marlboro Man
Top three advertisement pictures from Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising.
Bottom two pictures from Trinkets and Trash.