Legal & lethal

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It's easy and often appropriate to attack the tobacco industry. But the fact remains that cigarettes are legal as well as lethal. To succeed in a category with strict advertising restraints and constant opposition requires well-honed and clever marketing. The tobacco industry has illustrated expertise in both with new "special occasion" line extensions.

Products such as new Philip Morris USA's Marlboro Special Blends-a limited edition smoke to be sold only around the holidays-create an upscale tier for trendoids who need to live or die on the cutting edge. The line's all-black packaging, lack of advertising support and narrow window of introduction all play into giving the product an exclusive-and decidedly adult-aura. Innovations like Marlboro Special Blends and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.'s exotic-blended Camel Turkish Gold (which comes in citrus, among other flavors) aim to cash in on cachet by reaching out to the same status-conscious social smokers who quaff Absolut and frequent coffee bars.

All the more amazing, it's Philip Morris' formerly rough-and-tumble cowboy smoke that's taking the company into the upper echelons of luxury cigarettes. Marlboro now has an eye-popping 37.7% share of the U.S. cigarette market, according to The Maxwell Report. In this era of discount smokes, Marlboro stands for premium cigarettes-and if Philip Morris has its way, super-premium tobacco products as well.

There will inevitably be detractors accusing Philip Morris of coming up with Special Blends to hook teens, the ultimate trend-watchers. The company and others in the tobacco industry should quite rightly be put through the wringer for attracting youth. Marlboro Special Blends, however, is a special case. This time, the company is clearly going after a legitimate target of image-conscious adults.

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