Zippo Lighter Makes a Glitzy Return

70-Year-Old Company Launches Campaign: 'Zippo, for Real'

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CHICAGO (AdAge.com) -- Count Zippo among the platform shoes, miniskirts and other faded fashion items being rediscovered.

Zippo Manufacturing, the nearly 70-year-old privately held maker of those

little windproof, refillable lighters, is leveraging the retro revolution in its latest ad campaign introducing its new tagline, "Zippo, for Real."

"Zippo is trying to cash in on its cachet," said Robert Thompson, professor of media and popular culture at Syracuse University. "Zippo is a lot like Kleenex or Xerox or Coke, and part of it's the fact that there are very few people alive for whom Zippo and lighter aren't synonymous."

Vietnam, love poems
The multimillion-dollar ad effort -- from independent agency Blattner Brunner, Pittsburgh -- attaches human emotions to Zippo lighters, while distancing the brand from disposable competitors. Eight print executions are rolling out now in male-skewed magazines including Maxim, Spin and Sports Illustrated; each features a lighter with a simple headline below. One ad, showing a silver Zippo engraved with a love poem, reads, "True love is not disposable." Another execution, featuring a Zippo with an engraved map of Vietnam and a soldier's name, says "Freedom is not disposable."

"The lighter market is mainly disposable," said Denee Amyx, account executive at Blattner Brunner. "We're finding that people love their Zippo's for different reasons," she said. "We wanted to make the human, emotional attachment."

"We wanted to equate that long-lasting relationship with other things in life," said Bill Garrison, the agency's group creative director, adding that the strategy performed a double duty by taking the disposable lighter market head on.

As much as $3,000
Zippo costs more than its Bic brethren, priced anywhere from $12.95 to $3,000 for its collectible styles vs. below $2 for disposables. The company won't disclose sales, but in supermarkets -- a venue where comparably few Zippos are sold -- the brand registered $1.2 million in sales for the 52 weeks ended July 15, according to Information Resources Inc.

Today's status-conscious society may embrace Zippo's premium price, Mr. Thompson said. "All of a sudden there are fancy cigars and fancy cigar bars. ... There's something about pulling out a 50 cent Bic that just doesn't do the job."

Retro, on the other hand, is much more acceptable. "Zippo has a sense of historical integrity," Mr. Thompson added. "All of a sudden, some of these [older] companies that are still operating -- like Campbell's Soup and Pez -- are beginning to realize what a potent thing they've got in this kind of historical aura that surrounds them."

Zippo abandoned its 2-year-old tagline -- "Use it to start something" -- an attempt to target the 18- to 34-year-old age group, because the new theme resonated with a broader audience, explained Peggy Errera, assistant manager of marketing communications at Zippo.

Preception: 'genuine,' 'authentic'
"Across all demographics of age, income and geography, what kept coming back to us was that Zippo is genuine, Zippo is real, Zippo is authentic," Ms. Errera said.

Zippo's previous ads attempted to distance the product from smoking -- one ad, for example, showed a hippie lighting meditation candles with a Zippo -- but the new campaign does not focus on that separation. "We're not concentrating so much on not showing smoking," Ms. Errera said.

In fact, despite a smoking backlash, Ms. Errera said sales have stayed strong. Mr. Thompson suggested that the stigma against smoking may actually help the lighter business as smoking becomes imbued with an aura of exclusivity.

"Smoking itself has become more of an event, more of a thing you have to search out to do," he said. "All of the activities surrounding it begin to take on a more luxurious style, and the lighter is right smack in the middle of that."

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