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Marketing Cigarettes


Brands like people to have good experiences in association with them. Coke, for example, want to be there when you’re having fun with your friends at the beach. Meat and Livestock Australia want you to come home to a beef casserole after you’ve been playing in the rain with your friends in winter (kudos to MLA and BMF for a great campaign). Marketing departments think that if they can plant their brand into your wonderful memories, they’ll be remembered fondly by association. It works. But there’s also a flip side. If your brand is there when people aren’t having fun, you’re a little bit screwed. Cheap bourbon is reponsible for more ‘first hangovers’ among teenage girls than any other alcoholic beverage in the world (I have no statistical evidence to back that up, but I’ve asked around), which, I dare say, is one of the reasons Jim Beam doesn’t even bother trying to market its product to women.

Imagine then, if your product was scientifically proven to kill and associated by most of the population with death. Don’t get me wrong, this can be a huge advantage, if you are, say, Lockheed Martin, but not so good if you are the maker of a consumer product. Cigarettes will, in fact, kill you. Phillip Morris makes more of them than just about anyone else.

I wouldn’t work in Marketing for Phillip Morris if they paid me $1,000,000 a year, but plenty of people would. For that reason they have some of the most highly-paid marketing executives in the world and they aren’t short on talent. Their brands are associated with death and sickness, but they can’t spin this with advertising, they can’t sponsor anything, they are forced by legislation to put graphic images of the diseases they cause on their products, they won’t show their products in films, people can’t even use them in public and they are taxed heavily by governments. Devising marketing strategies for Phillip Morris would have to be up their on the difficult scale with being the New York PR rep for Al Qaeda.

Virtually the only marketing avenue left to Phillip Morris is online. Even on the vast open plains of the wild world web they’re still doing it tough. Google any cigarette brand and see if you can find an official website with traditional marketing material. You can’t. Check out what they have to do instead. Despite being inside a maximum security marketing prison, somehow, somewhere, sometimes, people still smoke. Millions of them. Despite the best efforts of government health departments to get people to stop, smoking rates in the USA have decreased by a measly 2% a year for the last decade. Pear consumption in Italy could have decreased by that amount an no-one would have noticed.

The best marketing strategy in the world is to make a product that people with elevated social status think is cool. If the cool people have it, everyone else will want it. The second best marketing strategy in the world is to make your product addictive.

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2 Responses to Marketing Cigarettes

  1. You know I keep saying in almost all of our internal meetings as well as any client I meet, putting an element of aspiration into your offering, any at all, will make your job of selling it ten times easier. I hate smoking, but I think people a hundred years from now will still think of this image of James Dean and contemplate lighting up.

  2. admin says:

    Thankfully, for every James Dean, there’s a Shane Warne!

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