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Understanding The Progression of Tobacco Marketing Strategies

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The purpose of this paper is to delve into tobacco advertising and the struggle to first ban the advertising, and then to fight the product usage itself. Tobacco is a harmful and dangerous legal drug that is still widely used by many Americans. This paper will provide insight into the world of tobacco advertising and how it has changed over the last fifty years due to the changing views of the product. There are many areas that factor into the ban of tobacco and its advertisement. First, this paper will bring to light some of the many ways that tobacco companies advertise and market their various products. Then, it will explain the advertising restrictions that face tobacco companies today. This paper will also dig into the internet’s part in getting around the advertising ban that the larger tobacco companies employ. Finally, this paper will focus on the way that tobacco companies have advertised to children and young adults for the purpose of creating a natural dependence on tobacco products once they reach adulthood.

Tobacco Advertisements: The Last Fifty Years

Advertising has been in use for as long as people have sold things to one another. It has vastly changed throughout history by evolving from simply word-of-mouth, to thirty second commercials full of bright and appealing products. The first advertisement in the United States of the sort we would see today appeared in the New York daily paper in 1789. Print advertisements were becoming more and more common and tobacco was happy to join the fray. In these early days of tobacco advertisement, the advertisements placed were seen no differently than an advertisement about coffee or sugar. This is due to the lack of true evidence about tobacco that was available at the time. There was very little support that showed the harmful effects that come with smoking tobacco, and so the product only gained in popularity once print ads became the norm.

The average American views around three thousand advertisements a day. They are perceived from various forms of media, such as: billboards, radio, television, newspapers, magazines, banners, and many others. It is sometimes difficult to perceive how much these ads effect a consumers buying decisions, but the majority of the products purchased day-to-day are due to one advertisement or another sparking an interest. These advertisements are portrayed to the general public in numerous different ways. The company in question may use advertising strategies such as emotional appeal, testimonial, doctor recommendations, plain folk; and of course, bandwagon. Each of these different marketing approaches offer a particular way to intrigue the potential buyer. However, these contrasting forms of advertisement are only useful if used in the correct context. The main point for a company to consider is what approach works on a certain portion of the general population.

The name for the type of advertising that is most commonly found is known as target marketing. This is a practice used in the majority of consumer marketing strategies employed by a company. Target marketing groups specific portions of the population into smaller subgroups that share similarities. Advertisements are often tailored to a specific subgroup by using themes and images that appeal to the target audience. It is due to these ads that consumers purchase a particular product, because of the feelings that they now associate with the product thanks to the advertisement. The tobacco industry targets several groups of people with their advertisements. However, the primary group that tobacco ads focus on are young people. Tobacco is a very addictive product, and once you begin to use it, it is very difficult to quit. As a result of this, tobacco companies focus their efforts on younger people so that they can create a new potentially life-long consumer. It is largely due to this fact that the assorted advertisement bans were supported and passed. When a harmful product was being pushed on America’s youth, the realization arose that they must be protected from the influence of tobacco for as long as possible.

The purpose of an advertisement is to create an emotional response from its audience. The idea of “purchasing a self-image” is something that has been developed by the media to create a more personal shopping experience. Marketers are constantly striving to identify the new consumer trends that direct the mob mentality of purchasing. They must determine the specific combination of images that will appeal to each person in a subgroup the most efficiently. Tobacco advertisements are tailored to many different subgroups of the population. These groups are formed by a variety of factors, such as: race, age, gender, etc. The point of creating these subgroups is because each group is supposed to share a similar mindset as the other people in the group. This means that an elderly group might all disapprove of the same thing, just as a group of teens may all think that something is cool. It is these subgroups that this paper will now delve into, because tobacco advertisement targets these various groups in different ways.

Marlboro has been actively advertising much more towards men for the past thirty years due to a shift in its social status. The advertisements below show a few of the assorted rugged cowboys who represented Marlboro cigarettes for a man. This push for manliness was due to the fact that Marlboro has a higher percentage of female smokers than any other brand. A study published in 1993 found that “many young women saw Marlboro Lights as a brand for the casual, outgoing person who gets along with anyone.” Possibly due to the large amount of women who smoked Marlboro’s, the male customer basis was much smaller. It began to gain the role as the women’s cigarette, which caused the push for Marlboro to depict a manlier cigarette.

The image on the left is from the 1970’s, when Marlboro was portraying a much rougher image of a man. The image is that of a solitary cowboy, with a tough look. He has a simple background, which gives full attention to the cowboy himself. He has reins in his hand so he is also riding. This image was used to illustrate what a “real man” looked like. He was tough and strong, as well as being a man who can work to get the job done. After analyzing the two images, the image on the right really helps to show the effects social patterns have on advertising. This image is much friendlier in its presentation. The three cowboys appear to be talking and smiling as they carry their saddles. They are standing in a brightly colored field, and the sun is glaring down. These various changes were brought about due to the market research that is constantly attempting to stay aware of the new trends. The second image is from the late 1990’s, when the values of younger people shifted to a stronger sense of community and away from the tough individualism that previously held sway. As the social norms changed, so too did the Marlboro cowboy. Once stoic and reserved, the Marlboro Cowboy began to socialize and smile to create a more relaxed and approachable feeling.

Up until the 1920’s, tobacco advertising was almost exclusively tailored for men. The advertisements showed men, doing manly things, and all around being what a man was supposed to be. However, the advertisements took on a significant change when advertising to women also became the norm. Initially, the advertisements painted smoking as a new symbol of freedom for women. The cigarette advertisements showed women smoking in public with their “torches of freedom.” Over the next forty years, these advertisements developed into more of a representation of how you should look and act as a woman.

In the 1960’s, the “You’ve come a Long Way, Baby” campaign by Virginia Slims first began to circulate. This advertisement campaign always showed a strong, thin, and independent woman smoking. The idea behind these advertisements was to combine the two main themes during the 1960’s for women; liberty and weight control. The Virginia slims advertisement shows a capable looking attractive woman who is standing on her own. The background is blank which gives more attention to the woman herself. She has no man near her in the advertisement because she is showing her independence by standing alone. Another tobacco company that advertised to women is Satin. This brand was created in 1982 as competition for the manlier cigarette companies. Satin advertises mainly to women in an attempt to create a larger female smoking population. The advertisements used by Satin generally cater to attractive, educated working women who enjoyed smoking cigarettes. A study done in the early 1980’s showed that Satin was striving to create new ideology about smoking. They did this by appealing to “The sensuous nature of a woman… The desire to pamper yourself… The desire to relax with a cigarette… The generally suppressed dream of relaxing in luxury.” The idea behind the campaign was to tell women it was ok to take a break and indulge themselves every now and then. The advertisements usually show an attractive and thin young woman who is always very well dressed. In the advertisement above, she is laughing and enjoying her time with a good-looking man in a suit. This gives the impression that even classy and higher-status women smoke as well. These advertisements promote self-indulgence and relaxation, while also projecting an aura of class and fantasy.

Since tobacco advertising truly became main stream in the early 1900’s, there has been one key target group. This group is classified as ‘young adults’ and range in age from 12 to 25. This group itself is broken up even more with the 12 to 18 age group receiving the most influence from the tobacco advertisements. These young adults are targeted by tobacco companies because they are going through a time of experimentation as well as transitioning into adulthood. It is during this time that many teens first try, and become addicted to cigarettes. The most important aspect of these young adults however is that the brand that they first begin to smoke when they are young, will most likely become the brand they continue to smoke as they get older. Thanks to the addictive qualities of nicotine, cigarette companies are able to create potentially life long customers. It is this that creates the constant struggle to market to this young adult age group, without directly marketing to them.

Advertisements that cater to young adults have a few key ingredients. The first and foremost part of just about every advertisement that markets to the younger age group is that the people in the advertisement are having fun. This is the most important point that tobacco companies want to get across with their advertisement. They want the young adults that will become the next generation of smokers to see these advertisements and believe that smoking is a fun and cool thing to do. As it can be seen in both of the above pictures, the people in the advertisements are usually around college age and also generally fit and attractive. Tobacco companies cannot of course publish advertisements with children under the age of eighteen smoking, so this is the next best thing. Often times these young adults look up to the older college age people who in a sense, set the standard for how they should look and act. It is through advertisements like these that tobacco companies are still able to indirectly market to young adults in an attempt to create new customers.

In 1970, Congress took the first real step towards the ban of tobacco advertisement by passing the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act. This act began on January 2, 1971 and banned the advertising of cigarettes on television and radio. This led most tobacco companies to switch to primarily print ads through billboards, newspapers, and magazines. The next big step came in 1984, when Congress passed the Federal Cigarette Labeling and Advertising Act which forced tobacco distributors to label all advertisements and packs of cigarettes with a Surgeon General’s warning. The death of mass media advertisements for cigarettes finally came in 1997, when the Tobacco Master Settlement Agreement banned all outdoor, billboard, and public transportation advertising of cigarettes. Following this, the majority of billboards that previously showed tobacco ads, now displayed anti-smoking messages. The true end to public advertisement for tobacco came in 2010 with the Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act, which prohibits tobacco companies from displaying their logos on clothing products, as well as sponsoring sports and music.

The banning of tobacco advertising was a drawn out struggle with the tobacco companies fighting each step of the way. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that “advertising must be truthful and non-deceptive… advertisers must have evidence to back up their claims… and advertisements cannot be unfair.” The FTC qualifies an advertisement as unfair if “it causes or is likely to cause substantial consumer injury which a consumer could not reasonably avoid; and it is not outweighed by the benefit to consumers.” At first, tobacco companies were simply forced to provide the truth about the harm that can be caused from using tobacco. The advertisements were then banned because they were shown as unfair in regards to the lack of benefits associated with using tobacco.

In response to each act and ban that was enforced on tobacco advertisements, the tobacco companies simply shifted their focus of medium to spread the word about their product. From television, to billboards, to newspaper, and finally the use of sports and even clothing; tobacco advertisement has permeated America’s mass media. Over the last fifty years however, each of these ways of advertisement has been banned so that tobacco advertisement has only one place to continue to thrive. Federal law states that there is to be no advertisements on “any medium of electronic communication subject to the jurisdiction of the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).” The issue with this is that the FCC does not currently regulate the internet. As of now, there are no explicit restrictions to tobacco advertisements online, and this has led to a massive boom in the internet marketing used by tobacco companies.

Over the last fifteen years, use of the internet has expanded rapidly and efficiently so that the vast majority of American’s now have access to the internet and use it almost every day. Over time, it has become the primary source of entertainment as well as information for most households. The internet also conveniently provides a new medium of advertisement for tobacco products. In recent years, all major tobacco companies have established websites that promote their tobacco products and brands. The reported expenditures for advertising on company websites and general internet marketing is increasing exponentially. The advertising costs exploded from around $125,000 in 1998, to $26.7 million reported in 2012. In just the two years between 2006 and 2008, the online advertising costs more than doubled; going from $8.3 million to $17.8 million. Starting in 2009, large tobacco companies have steadily increased spending and stay over $25 million minimum per year.

This new venue of advertising has led to much speculation about how to regulate the advertising of tobacco companies online. Currently, there is no real regulation of marketing on the internet. This presents the same issues that arose from all of the previous forms of media used by tobacco companies to advertise their product. In fact, there are even more factors to consider where online advertising is concerned. The internet has again provided a means for tobacco companies to market indirectly to the American youth by creating a more exciting experience. Many websites employ the use of contests, games, and videos to attract a younger audience. As shown in the Pew Internet Project, 92% of teenagers use the internet on a daily basis. Moreover, more than half of that number go online multiple times a day, largely in part to the incredible 73% of teens that now have access to a smartphone. As tobacco companies utilize new ways of drawing in the younger generation, it becomes the job of the public to dissuade the American youth from using tobacco.

Teenagers and younger children are the easiest and most profitable target for tobacco companies. Largely due to the massive amount of funds tobacco companies invest into internet marketing, the American youth is still seeing many advertisements for tobacco on a regular basis. These companies make the claim that their way of advertising does not influence those under the age of eighteen, but it is clear that their advertisements are having an important effect on young audiences. Unfortunately, many studies support that roughly 90% of smokers try their first cigarette before the age of eighteen. It is also during this early stage of smoking that brand loyalty is formed. Phillip Morris explains this phenomenon during the case United States v Phillip Morris: “Today’s teenager is tomorrow’s potential regular customer, and the overwhelming majority of smokers first begin to smoke while still in their teens…”

It is easy to identify by simply looking at America’s youth just how much these tobacco advertisements come into play. The US Surgeon General’s 1989 report on smoking and health outlined four direct and three indirect mechanisms by which tobacco advertising and promotion may increase tobacco consumption. The direct mechanisms are: (1) encouraging children or young adults to experiment with tobacco products and initiate regular use; (2) increasing tobacco users’ daily consumption of tobacco products by serving as an external cue to smoke or by lowering the cost of smoking; (3) reducing current tobacco users’ motivation to quit; and (4) encouraging former smokers to resume smoking. Tobacco advertisements are able to continue to directly target their young audience with the use of certain key elements. These youth targeted advertisements generally use college age students. This is perfectly acceptable due to the fact that they are not showing anyone under the age of eighteen smoking. Regrettably, these advertisements have so much effect because teenagers and younger children look to these college students as what they are expected to become. This creates the urge to begin to use tobacco products in an attempt to portray the ‘cool’ view that comes from the advertisement.

“From the 1950s to the present, different defendants, at different times and using different methods, have intentionally marketed to young people under the age of twenty-one in order to recruit ‘replacement smokers’ to ensure the economic future of the tobacco industry.” Following the multi-state tobacco settlement in 1998, the largest tobacco companies promised not to “take any action directly or indirectly to target youth in advertising, promotion, or marketing of tobacco products.” Sadly, this promise was never fulfilled, and will likely stay unfulfilled due to the perpetual greed associated with large tobacco companies. The American youth are an integral part of the tobacco business and tobacco companies will continue to find ways around the laws passed to indirectly target this market niche.

As the evidence shows, tobacco advertising has had a large effect on consumption. Tobacco is a legal drug that is abused by many Americans every day. The avenues of advertising have been steadily restricted until there is only one real viable source left for the tobacco companies to pursue. In the coming years, the internet will also begin to be restricted for tobacco advertisements and eventually there will be no legal way for the companies to market their products. This will eventually inspire a huge positive impact to the American youth. Once tobacco advertisements are completely restricted, the numbers of new smokers will likely drop as well until only a small group remains. It is unlikely that smoking will ever truly cease due to its worldwide popularity that reaches back millennia. However, we can hope that one day, America’s youth will be free of the pressure put on by the tobacco companies who will exploit their naivety at the first chance they get.

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Understanding the Progression of Tobacco Marketing Strategies. (2019, January 03). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 6, 2022, from
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