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By Published on .

Virginia Slims has come a long way, bebe.

The Philip Morris USA brand is breaking what's believed to be the first, concerted multicultural marketing effort for a cigarette, using a single theme interpreted in several ways for African-American, Asian-American, Hispanic and general-market women.

The campaign, urging "Find your own voice," kicks off in December magazines with an unusual four- and six-page insert in publications ranging from Glamour, Ladies' Home Journal and People to Essence, Vibe and a first-ever buy for the brand in Latina.

Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, created the campaign, estimated at $40 million.


Each ad portrays the voice theme in different ways: The African-American ad shows a woman in profile with the copy, "Never let the goody two shoes get you down." The Hispanic version reads, "Dance around naked with a rose between your teeth if you want. But do it like you mean it." And the Asian-American execution shows what appears to be an opera singer in full makeup with the line, "In silence I see. With wisdom I speak."

"It is really to show the multiculturalism and diversity that women come from . . . and how they are empowered in today's society," said Ellen Merlo, senior VP-corporate affairs at PM, noting that the four initial ads are "just a small sample" of myriad additional executions to follow.

Models aside, she said the new effort builds on rather than departs from the brand's earlier feminist-oriented strategy.

"It's consistent with where Virginia Slims has been since its inception [in 1968]," she said. "It's always celebrated woman and her role."


The most recent campaign for Virginia Slims used the theme "It's a woman thing," and showed women in everyday activities, such as hailing cabs. Some included tongue-in-cheek observations about women's love lives and friends.

Although Virginia Slims may have found its voice, it has lost its momentum. According to The Maxwell Report, volume for the No. 10 brand fell 7% in the second quarter, although its share rose 0.1% to 2.5%.


Like PM's other premium-price cigarettes, notably Benson & Hedges, Merit and Parliament, Virginia Slims has suffered from gains made by sibling brand Marlboro. Marlboro's shipment share jumped 0.7 points to 35.2% of the market in the second quarter, according to PM, while its other full-priced lines dropped 0.1 share points to a cumulative 7.6% share.

"Virginia Slims continues to maintain and slightly grow share when you factor out Marlboro and [Lorillard's] Newport from the equation," Ms. Merlo said. "In the context of an industry declining 1% to 2% . . . it's performing very well."

In pursuing its new direction, PM may well be looking to capture some growth from booming multicultural markets. Latina president-Publisher Christy Haubegger said that Asian-Americans, African-Americans and Hispanics combined account for 30% of the population.

It's not just Virginia Slims, but marketing that's come a long way in the past decade. Only 10 years ago, cigarettes aimed at African-Americans, such as R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s short-lived Uptown, were decried by activist groups as a means to exploit and encourage minorities to smoke.

But as the clamor for multicultural advertising rises, many of those concerns have gone up in smoke.

"It's not the last refuge of the desperate," said Ms. Haubegger.


"As a person in the industry, I have mixed feelings," said Julia Huang, chairman of Interbrand, a Torrance, Calif., agency specializing in Asian-American advertising. "It's great to see a potential big advertiser coming into the market, but at what cost and for what product?"

"I'm excited to hear about new advertising that realizes that multiculturalism exists," said Jeff Lin, chief creative officer at Admerasia, New York. "Even if it is a tobacco company."

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