Marketing Campaign Case Studies

Saturday, February 2, 2008


The Philip Morris Companies changed its name to Altria Group Inc. The essay continues to refer to the company’s former name, as that was the official name of the organization when the campaign was launched.
The slogan Philip Morris Companies Inc. used in 1968 to launch its Virginia Slims campaign—‘‘You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby’’—effectively combined the two seemingly dissimilar marketing themes of female attractiveness and women’s rights. The series of ads were highly successful, however, and in 1996 the company introduced a successor campaign with the slogan ‘‘It’s a Woman Thing.’’
The new campaign, which was directed by Leo Burnett USA of Chicago, took on what might be called a post-feminist ironic tone. For example, a photo of a beautiful blond woman on a motorcycle was accompanied by the line ‘‘I don’t necessarily want to run the world, but I wouldn’t mind taking it for a ride.’’
Another ad showed a young woman who exuded beauty, happiness, and ‘‘female cool’’ polishing her nails a metallic blue. The accompanying line asked, ‘‘Does this look stupid on me? The correct answer to the question is ‘No.’ ’’

Cigarettes had been marketed directly to women since the 1880s, when the Kimball Tobacco Company tried to sell perfumed cigarettes called Satin Straight Cuts in satin drawstring purses. The effort failed because of the social climate. When in the 1920s Lucky Strike ads appeared that featured slender young women who advised, ‘‘Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet,’’ suggesting a correlation between smoking and thinness, sales tripled within a year, however. The image of Amelia Earhart was used in Lucky Strike ads of 1928, which implied that the aviator had smoked Luckys on her transatlantic flight. (Earhart, a nonsmoker, protested.) The following year, fashion and activism combined when debutantes and feminists marched in New York’s Easter Day parade smoking ‘‘torches of freedom’’ in the form of Lucky Strikes.
In 1967 the American Tobacco Company failed in an attempt to market king-size cigarettes for women with the line ‘‘Cigarettes are like girls. The best ones are thin and rich.’’ But when Philip Morris introduced Virginia Slims a year later with the slogan ‘‘You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby,’’ the brand rose into the number one spot for sales to women. The strategy behind the initial marketing of Virginia Slims linked good looks and emancipation, or, in the words of Ellen Merlo, the company’s group director for brand management, ‘‘Old-time fashion and fun.’’ Sepia-tinted photographs of downtrodden ‘‘women of yesteryear’’ shown sneaking cigarettes and then feeling shame upon being discovered were juxtaposed with bright, glossy images of beautiful contemporary women who seemed to have arrived at full-blown independence. The ads were slightly sardonic about the lot of women in earlier times, when ‘‘a woman wasn’t allowed to vote, earn, talk, think or smoke like a man,’’ as characterized in the Virginia Slims Book of Days Engagement Calendar. Direct advertising was never the sole promotional device used by Virginia Slims. The Book of Days Engagement Calendar, introduced in 1970 and offered free at points of sale, contained humorous historical anecdotes and memorable sexist quotes but few overt selling lines. The Virginia Slims Opinion Poll, a series of polls conducted by the Roper Center to survey the changing status of women in society, was launched in the same year. Soon after, Virginia Slims created the first professional women’s tennis tour, which allowed the brand name to continue to appear on television without direct pitches for the product. In the 1980s sponsorship of the visual and performing events by parent corporation Philip Morris led the Wall Street Journal to call it ‘‘the art world’s favorite company.’’ And the 1990s saw the introduction of Virginia Slims V-Wear, advertised as a ‘‘fashion collection with a streetwise attitude’’ and available free with proofs of purchase. Critics, however, lambasted the relatively short period of time—six months—and number of proofs of purchase—980—needed to obtain a complete ensemble, calculating that a smoker would have to go through five packs of cigarettes a day to meet the goal.

The ‘‘It’s a Woman Thing’’ campaign targeted women smokers. The ads invoked the ‘‘feel-good solidarity of a Hollywood female buddy movie,’’ wrote Lucy O’Brien in The Independent. O’Brien quoted Mandy Merck, a lecturer in media studies at Sussex University: ‘‘It’s a woman thing implies that you can share this culture of smoking with your friends. Smokers adore each other—shared vices and addictions make great bonding experiences.’’ Worldwide, women were a market of great interest because they invariably smoked less than men and in some markets did not smoke at all. In Hong Kong, for example, where only 1 percent of women smoked, tobacco companies had spent millions trying to persuade them to begin.
Despite antismoking campaigns, the Wall Street Journal reported that U.S. consumption of cigarettes held steady in 1996 and possibly was rising. One significant factor was the new generation of smokers in their late teens and early 20s who saw the habit as hip. From 85 to 90 percent of new smokers in the United States in 1997 were teenagers, with 3,000 minors beginning to smoke each day according to figures provided by the American Lung Association. According to reports by the association and the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, virtually all smokers began the habit by age 18. Consumer Reports reported that a high proportion of young smokers were girls, who associated smoking with weight loss, social acceptance, and independence.
Philip Morris and Leo Burnett were careful, however, not to pitch the Virginia Slims ads directly to underage smokers. ‘‘They didn’t say it’s a girl thing; it’s a woman thing,’’ observed Carol Boyd, director of the University of Michigan’s Substance Abuse Research Center. ‘‘It has to do with growing up, being independent.’’ Nevertheless, this was an enticing prospect for young girls. As quoted on CNN, teenage smoker Tiffany Walter summed up the image by saying, ‘‘[It’s] like this beautiful supermodel that’ll never gain weight.
[She’s] just gorgeous, has a lot of money, is classy, up in the business world, just like women of the ‘90s want to be.’’

Of young female smokers in the early 1990s, the overwhelming majority were white. In a 1995 survey on high school smoking in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 40 percent of white females attending high school had smoked in the previous month and that 21 percent were heavy smokers. Of young African-American females attending high school, only 12 percent smoked at all, with just 1 percent being heavy smokers. Some observers suggested that the female cool of the ‘‘It’s a Woman Thing’’ ads continued to play to the social pressure to be thin, which was more of a concern to white than to African-American teenage girls, who held different ideas of beauty.

In 1997 Philip Morris was the largest tobacco company in the world, with 45 percent of the U.S. and 12 percent of the world market, and its Marlboro cigarettes were the world’s best-selling brand. Nearly three-fourths (72 percent) of smokers between the ages of 18 and 24 were loyal to two brands—Marlboro (59 percent) and R. J. Reynolds’ Camel (13 percent). Both brands pursued advertising that incorporated female images or broadened their formerly masculine images. R. J. Reynolds announced plans to add a Josephine Camel character to its ‘‘Joe Camel’’ campaign, and some ads for Marlboro Lights become more androgynous, with desert scenes and tumbleweed replacing the Marlboro Man. According to Margaretha Haglund, head of tobacco control at Stockholm’s Institute of Public Health, young women smokers traditionally favored so-called light or low-tar brands. Early brands developed specifically for women included Eve, Cooper, Charm, and Kim, as well as Virginia Slims. A main competitor for Virginia Slims was Capri, whose ads retained a classic style of feminine imagery, showing a woman in an elegant gown holding a long, thin cigarette with the accompanying line ‘‘She’s gone to Capri and she’s not coming back.’’ Other competitors included Dakota, aimed at ‘‘virile females with a high-school education,’’ according to Sussex University’s Merck, and Misty, a budget-priced cigarette advertised with young-looking models and the slogan ‘‘Light ‘n Sassy . . . Light Price, Too.’’
Nonetheless, by 1985 the market share of Virginia Slims was double that of all other women’s cigarettes combined. Among all brands Virginia Slims was number 10 in sales in 1996. Its market share was 2.4 percent, far behind Marlboro’s 32.3 percent, but not far behind Camel’s 4.6 percent. No other women’s brand made the top 10 list. Ad spending for Virginia Slims in 1996 was $30.9 million, a $4.4 million increase over the previous year.

Some of the ‘‘It’s a Woman Thing’’ magazine ads followed the ‘‘competent and liberated’’ theme put forth by previous Virginia Slims ads and placed a lit cigarette squarely in the center of the image. One ad, for example showed a well-groomed woman in a stylish straw hat who eyed the camera over her cigarette and stated, ‘‘If it slices, dices or scrubs, it’s hardly ever the gift we’ve always wanted.’’ Some of the ads did not depict or address smoking itself but instead showed women refusing to feel tormented by problems with boyfriends. In one a long-haired blond girl shared a denim jacket with a grinning young man, with the line saying, ‘‘It takes time to get over a breakup. Fortunately, a new boyfriend can cut that time in half.’’ In another a short-cropped, tousle-haired girl slouched in her slip and smiled ruefully at the camera: ‘‘Making up with us is easy; admit you’re wrong even if you’re not.’’ Accompanying the ads was a new Virginia Slims promotional program—Woman Thing Music—a label for emerging female musicians. Woman Thing Music was envisioned as a series of CDs and tours promoting undiscovered women artists. It was all part of the Virginia Slims ‘‘tradition of providing opportunities for women to showcase their talents and interests,’’ Mary Jo Gennaro, Philip Morris’s manager of events marketing, told the Wall Street Journal. The CDs were not sold at record stores but were available free with the purchase of Virginia Slims in special packages of two at supermarkets, convenience stores, and other outlets. Brand-name CDs had been used by other marketers. In January 1997 Time magazine reported that the Woman Thing Music label was just the latest in a list of brand-name labels that included those by Banana Republic, Gap, Victoria’s Secret, and Pottery Barn. Most of these CDs were compilations of previously released songs by well-known musicians. In contrast, Woman Thing Music aimed to promote new and unknown female performers by underwriting their albums and sponsoring live performances. The first CD, released in the spring of 1997, was a six-song mini-album by 27-year-old Martha Byrne, who played Lily on the soap opera As the World Turns. Four of the songs were originals, including one titled ‘‘It’s a Woman Thing,’’ and one was a cover of John Lennon’s ‘‘Imagine,’’ which contained the line ‘‘It’s a woman thing.’’

Antismoking activists saw the ‘‘It’s a Woman Thing’’ campaign as propaganda. The new slogan was lampooned in critical press reports as ‘‘It’s a chemo thing,’’ and the previous ‘‘You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby’’ was cynically interpreted in light of dire health statistics. The Independent’s O’Brien wrote, ‘‘As regulations against tobacco advertising become more stringent, it is inevitable that the dated image of the woman with the healthy grin and the skinny cigarette will fade away. Companies are already shifting their focus from magazines and posters to other areas such as sponsorship and the Internet. For the Virginia Slims woman, at last it seems her days are numbered.’’
According to Time, critics of the CD project called it ‘‘an attempt to get pop music-loving kids to smoke.’’ The Woman Thing Music campaign met with active resistance in the form of a counter concert called Virginia Slam. Leslie Nuchow, a New York singer and songwriter, organized the event in May 1997. She had been contacted by a representative of Philip Morris to participate in the Woman Thing Music project but declined, saying that the CDs and tours exploited women for the profit of the tobacco industry. Nuchow then gained recognition for her own music through the counter event, which had the support of popular performers such as Ani Di Franco. In August 1998 Mediascope reported that Woman Thing Music CDs were no longer available.

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