Philip Morris USA rolls Marlboro Milds to national audience

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Philip Morris USA rolls out its Marlboro Milds brand nationally next month in its latest push into the menthol cigarette market.

Blue-boxed Marlboro Milds, which Philip Morris describes as a balance between Marlboro Menthols and Marlboro Light Menthols, will be fully national by the end of April with ads from Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, breaking in May books.

Philip Morris has been testing Marlboro Milds in Pittsburgh and Atlanta since July and the company said the national ads will use the same creative approach as in the test markets.

Ads slated for the national launch feature a laid-back image of a cowboy. One shows only a cowboy's legs and boots resting on a fence with a Western vista beyond. "A new menthol," says the copy.

'MAKES PERFECT SENSE'

Analysts expressed little surprise at the national rollout.

"Marlboro is so powerful a trademark, you don't put a brand with its name in a test market unless you have a high confidence level of its success," said David Adelman, an analyst with Morgan Stanley Dean Witter & Co.

Philip Morris says it ships 49.6% of U.S. cigarettes. But Lorillard Tobacco Co.'s Newport leads the pack in the menthol arena, which today represents about 25% of the tobacco business. Mr. Adelman said Newport is the second or third best-selling cigarette in the nation.

"If you step back and look at it, it makes perfect sense," he said. "PM is underrepresented in menthol, leveraging the power of Marlboro and focusing on the premium [price] segment."

UNIQUE ALTERNATIVE

Philip Morris already has a Marlboro Menthol and a Marlboro Menthol Lights as well as Marlboro regulars, Marlboro Light and Marlboro Ultra Light. Together the Marlboro brands represent 36.4% of U.S. tobacco shipments, according to company figures. The company, however, said it believes there is a demand for a menthol product that is between its other brands in taste.

"We want to give adult smokers across the country a unique menthol alternative," said Mary Carnovale, a manager of media affairs for Philip Morris USA.

Though about 60% of menthol cigarettes are sold to whites, the 40% sold to minorities have prompted outcries from some civil rights activists who accuse tobacco marketers of marketing menthol products to minorities.

Philip Morris said its advertising for Marlboro Milds will be "broad based" and won't be directed at any particular segment.

Meanwhile, Philip Morris has begun offering a new sweepstakes contest for all the Marlboro brands.

"Cowboy's Place," a contest that launched last month, offers $3 million in prizes, ranging from a trip to the Marlboro ranch to steaks. The contest, which is being offered via magazine inserts and direct mail, is currently set to run at least through April.

Copyright March 2000, Crain Communications Inc.

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