Cigarette marketing for beginners

Thinking of making a few bucks selling cancer sticks to children? Worried by all those nasty overheads, like how to market a product that will kill your customers? Fear not, there are people ready to help and it won’t cost a cent.

An article that could be called “Cigarette Marketing for Dummies” has appeared in The Jakarta Globe by Asia-based marketing activist Stephen Cranston. It’s titled “Planning for the Future: An Insider’s Guide To Marketing Cigarettes to Teenagers” and it’s full of useful tips. It’s a study in sarcasm and helps to lift the lid on some of the tobacco marketing scandals we’ve been seeing in Indonesia lately, including the Kelly Clarkson fiasco.

Here’s how it starts:

Conventional brands sponsor events and unconventional brands ambush their rivals’ events. But only a really cunning brand would ambush its own event. How do you do it? Well, let’s take a look at how a cigarette brand might do it, because the best people in marketing sell cigarettes. I did until I got sentimental.

If this is how the author is when he’s feeling sentimental I’d hate to have seen him in his marketing prime. Peter Capaldi’s performance as the box-tearing Malcolm Tucker in the British comedy “In the Loop” springs to mind (only because I’ve just seen it). Cranston continues:

Here’s how it works: Sponsor a big event. Don’t worry about the cost, because you have no intention of paying for it. A concert by a pop star — or an American Idol for that matter — would be ideal, as this would expose your brand to lots of teenagers. Creating a brand experience is very important, as the product experience for cigarettes is nothing to shout about.

Having agreed to sponsor the concert, start to shout about it. At this stage, the teenagers won’t have paid much attention to who is sponsoring the event, but that doesn’t matter. Simply pray that your sponsorship provokes the pious and other useful groups into unwittingly collaborating with your promotion. They will denounce you from every media pulpit. This immediately gives you credibility with the teenagers. It also gives you acres of free publicity.

If all goes to plan, the promoter will succumb to pressure to drop you as the sponsor. By this stage you couldn’t really milk the furor for any more publicity, so getting out is no loss. And getting your money back is sweet.

Such horribly devious minds these marketing people have, no doubt a huge bonus for a job that requires selling products like cigarettes to teenagers.

So you don’t want the hassle of sponsoring some self-righteous pop star? How about an anti-smoking campaign, the more explicit the better:

The beauty of antismoking campaigns is that they don’t stop people from smoking, according to numerous studies. “First, do no harm” should be your mantra here, but you can be more ambitious. If done properly, the campaign will actually encourage teenagers to smoke. Unlike NGOs, you as a professional understand marketing and the concept of “social proof.”

Simply told, this means telling teenagers that other teenagers are smoking makes it more likely that they will smoke. Of course, telling teenagers not to do something also has the predictable opposite result, so feel free to “Just Say No.” Make your campaign as scary as a possible, complete with rotting jawbones and decaying teeth, as this approach never achieves anything except advertising awards. The prospect of a worthy, award-winning ad should mean your ad agency will work free of charge. It’s for the kids, after all.

There’s also some choice mockery of the tobacco companies’ denials that they are targeting children:

Now, you might ask why I would recommend marketing to teenagers. There are two reasons. By about age 23, most people have already decided whether or not they will be a smoker — don’t waste your time trying to change their minds. If they are smoking your cigarette brand, you can then afford to ignore them because brand loyalty for cigarettes is the envy of all other lifestyle brands. Most smokers carry on smoking for the rest of their lives. This brings me to the second point. Unfortunately, they don’t seem to live as long as other lifestyle consumers. I speculate that this is because of their love for adventure and high-risk outdoor activities, as is evident from TV commercials for cigarettes. So as Whitney Houston pines, “the children are our future.” Every teenager is a potential smoker, and a good cigarette brand will do its utmost to see them fulfill their potential. A boy who smokes gains confidence. Smoking makes him feel like a big man. Who could refute that smokers look and sound older than nonsmokers?

I couldn’t resist quoting that at length. I hate to say it, but it was a breath of fresh air compared to all the usual brainless crap we read about tobacco in the Jakarta newspapers.

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