TOBACCO INDUSTRY TARGETING OF WOMEN AND GIRLS
The tobacco companies have long understood the importance of women and girls in the overall
market for cigarettes and as a source of new customers. They have conducted extensive market
research on the attitudes of women and girls to better understand how to target their products
and their advertising. By focusing their research on how females view themselves, their
aspirations and the social pressures they face, the cigarette companies have developed some
of the most aggressive and sophisticated marketing campaigns in history for reaching and
influencing women and girls. The consequences of these campaigns are staggering. Smoking
among girls and young women increased dramatically in the 1990s. From 1991 to 1999,
smoking among high school girls increased from 27 to 34.9 percent.1 Smoking rates among
women over 18 have barely declined over the past 10 years and women are now almost as
likely as men to smoke.2
The Early Years
Though the slogans have changed over time, the tobacco industry's targeted marketing of women can
be traced back to the 1920s. While women were depicted in cigarette ads as non-smoking admirers
of smoking men at first, by 1927 advertisements with women smoking began to appear in women's
magazines.3 One of the most famous early cigarette advertising campaigns directed at women was
Lucky Strikes' "Reach for Lucky Instead of A Sweet."
Despite the advent of targeted advertising, smoking among women did not really gain social
acceptability until World War II. During that era, cigarette companies began to target
women more directly, using the fashion, beauty, and sophistication themes that still continue
today. The companies also used images of women in the military and the work place. For example,
Camel's ad slogan during World War II was "First in the Service" and highlighted successful women
in the military. While these new advertising campaigns focused on women's growing role in the
American workplace, they still portrayed smoking as a stylish and feminine act. This theme of
smoking as a way of achieving independence, while at the same time remaining stylish and
attractive (especially to men), became less popular after the war ended, but would later
The Advent of Women-Specific Brands in the 1970s
Cigarette company advertising continued to target women throughout the 1950s and 1960s, but the
companies did not make a full-scale effort to expand the number of their female customers until
the late 1960s. Realizing the impact that the women's liberation movement was having on the role
of women in America, the tobacco companies began to create specific brands of cigarettes for women.
With the introduction of Virginia Slims by Philip Morris in 1968, women became a major target of
the tobacco industry. Cigarette ads for this brand depicted women as independent and successful
with catchy tag lines such as the infamous "You've Come A Long Way Baby." Like early ads targeted
at women, these marketing efforts continued to portray female smoking as a way to express one's
independence, as well as a way to be particularly stylish and sexy.
The Virginia Slims advertising theme has not changed much since its introduction. Philip
Morris continued to market Virginia Slims using images of empowered women paired with "You've
Come A Long Way Baby" throughout the 1970s and 1980s. The copy on these ads usually focused
on how women's lives had changed since the 1920s and 1930s, focusing on the new freedoms
allowed to women. In the early 1990s, Philip Morris revamped the image of Virginia Slims
with the "It's a Woman Thing" campaign. While these ad campaigns continued to suggest
empowerment and attractiveness from smoking, the ad copy focused on how women are different
than men. More recently, Virginia Slims launched the lavish "Find Your Voice" ad campaign,
which featured strikingly beautiful women from around the world and suggested that independence
and allure could be found by smoking. (Philip Morris' chief executive in June 2000 agreed to
remove the "Find Your Voice" slogan after being questioned in the landmark Florida smokers trial
about whether it might be offensive to smokers with throat cancer.)4
With the success of these marketing campaigns, the tobacco companies fully recognized the
importance of women and girls as a key to their future success. For example,
an internal R.J. Reynolds document stated that "Younger adult female smokers will
continue to gain importance among [young adult] smokers due to their stronger incidence
trend versus [young adult] male smokers."5 Six years after the introduction of Virginia
Slims and other brands aimed at the female market, the smoking initiation rate of
12-year-old girls had increased by 110 percent. Increases among teenage girls of
other ages were also substantial.6
In the 1990s, the tobacco industry started tying their print advertising campaigns to a
variety of promotional campaigns. These campaigns reinforced the image of smoking being
stylish and sexy by offering free merchandise like clothing and CDs. Studies have shown
that there is a direct relationship between the awareness of and involvement with promotional
items and smoking initiation by youth.7
Targeting Women with "Low Tar" and "Light" Cigarettes
Realizing that many women were concerned about the long-term health risks of smoking, in the 1970s the tobacco companies
began promoting "low tar" or "light" cigarettes to women as a "softer" or even "safer" option. As a 1978 Philip Morris
document stated, "Today women make up the majority of low tar smokers. Almost half of all women have switched to low tar."8
Almost a decade later, another Philip Morris document offered a more detailed analysis, stating that "because of women's
nurturing role in society, they are naturally more involved with low tar cigarettes than men (70% of low tar smokers
are female). They do not want to stop smoking, yet they are guilt-ridden with concerns for their families if smoking
should badly damage their own health. Thus they compromise by smoking low tar cigarettes. ... This new product can
fit this positioning exactly." 9
An example of this marketing strategy can be seen in the True ad campaign from the 1970s. This campaign, which showed
golfers and tennis players as well as young women, read "All the fuss about smoking got me thinking I'd either quit
or smoke True. I smoke True. The low tar low nicotine cigarette. Think about it."
The cigarette companies continued to market these products despite being well aware that the actual or implied health
claims in their ads were either misleading or entirely false. In fact, studies have shown that the introduction of
"lights" did not improve the public health and may have led to an increase in the incidence of disease caused by smoking.
That is because the introduction of lights led many smokers not to quit and smokers of lights compensate by smoking more,
inhaling more deeply or blocking ventilation holes. 10
More women then men currently smoke light and ultra-light cigarettes (60 percent of women and 45 percent of men). Women are
also more likely than men to switch to light or ultra-light cigarettes.11
Cigarette Company Targeting of Women and Girls Today
The cigarette companies continue to target women using the same themes in their advertising. The image of smoking being
tied to independence, stylishness, weight control, sophistication and power continues today in the advertisements
running in many popular women's magazines. There are now two main types of cigarettes marketed to women, female brands
and dual sex brands. Female brands, like Virginia Slims, Capri and Misty, are marketed directly to women using feminine
images. Dual sex brands, like Marlboro and Camel, are marketed to women with independent and fun-loving imagery.
Philip Morris has been especially successful in its efforts to attract women to its "dual sex" brands. For years now, more
women, of all age groups, have smoked Marlboro than any other brand.12 As an RJR document recognized, "It is clear that
the primary competitor for a new [young adult] female smoker is Marlboro."13 An undated R.J. Reynolds analysis of younger
adult female smokers recognized the importance of this group to industry growth and also the potential in 'dual sex' brands
like Marlboro and Camel: "Most younger adult females smoke a dual sex brand - not too masculine (e.g. Camel), but not
strictly female (Virginia Slims). While specially targeted female brands will undoubtedly play a role in the future
market, lifestyle trends suggest that commonalities between younger adult males/females are increasing over time, so
that dual sex wants are likely to remain prevalent." 14
Female-specific brands continue to play an important role in the cigarette companies' marketing strategies. Recent
female-brand marketing campaigns continue to portray the image that women are empowered by smoking and Virginia Slims
continues to be the most popular female specific brand among women.15
From the Camel ads of the forties, with images of female pilots and copy lines like "They've Got What it Takes!," to the
recent Virginia Slims campaign telling women to "Find Your Voice," the tobacco companies have continued to target
women and girls with their deadly and addictive product. In the United States, smoking rates among males and
females in high school are almost equal (34.7 for males and 34.9 for females), and more than 20 percent of adult
women are current smokers.16
National Center for Tobacco-Free Kids, March 20, 2001
Additional Tobacco Industry Quotes About Targeting Women and Girls
R.J. Reynolds, 1982. "RJR has a corporate gap in the younger adult female smoker market. While this
in itself does not represent a market opportunity, penetration of this smoker group does pose a strategic
corporate opportunity ... younger adult smokers are strategically important to RJR's long-term growth ... Specifically,
these young adult females agree that smoking is: attractive to the opposite sex, sophisticated/stylish, less intelligent,
more aggressive, more mature, less feminine, smoke because friends do, feel more comfortable around others, feel
that I'm rebelling."17
American Tobacco Company (later purchased by Brown and Williamson) 1983. "Only recently has Virginia
Slims attempted to update their approach reflecting fun and lifestyle. Given the increasing number of women in the
work force, their demanding life-styles and changing values, an opportunity exists to position a female brand in step
with today's successful women's lifestyle and values."18
R.J. Reynolds, 1983. "There is greater agreement as to how and why women began smoking in the first place.
Beyond the easily recognized pressure of peers, women some to indicate passage into adulthood and as part of this
transitional period, to exhibit anti-authoritarian behavior."19
R.J. Reynolds, 1983. "The 'premise' is described as: "A brand that enhances/complements the young adult
female smoker's image by standing for contemporary femininity."20
R.J. Reynolds, 1984. "Designed to reinforce its appeal to fashion conscious, younger adult women ... These
product and packaging modifications will allow the consumer to make a bolder statement about her lifestyle and still
enjoy the low tar benefits of MORE lights 100's."21
Philip Morris, 1985. "However, this report does provide us with some useful information for Virginia Slims
in a sense that a slim image cigarette has to be more of an appeal for the female smokers who are concerned about
their weight. Although the survey indicated that only 52% of all female smokers 18-20 years old are concerned about
their weight, I believe that this concern will be much higher amongst the over 20 year old female smokers, which is
presumably the correct target for Virginia Slims."22
Philip Morris, 1991. "VSLM Creative Strategy: To convince fashionable, modern, independent and self-confident
women aged 20-34 that by smoking VSLM, they are making better/more complete expression of their independence."23
Philip Morris, 1992. " In an effort to gain relevancy among young adult female smokers, Virginia Slims is
exploring a new advertising direction. While this new direction has not been specifically defined as of yet, its
objective is to make Virginia Slims relevant to young adult female smokers through a proprietary attitude, in the
context of female style ... To women smokers, Virginia Slims is the brand that best expresses their style and
attitude about being a women today. The Virginia Slims Fashion program should dimensionalize the style and
attitude of today's young women smoker ... Event Objectives: generate trial and retrial among target ... provide
YAFS with an opportunity to support a popular, relevant charitable cause."24
American Tobacco Company (later purchased by Brown and Williamson) 1993. "There is significant opportunity
to segment the female market on the basis of current values, age, lifestyles and preferred length and circumference
of products. This assignment should consider a more contemporary and relevant lifestyle approach targeted toward
young adult female smokers."25
Philip Morris, 1993. "As a matter of fact, advertisements in magazines is the most efficient way to talk to
these female smokers. We also know what values to outline based on what we just saw ... Actually, one of their main
terminal values is to look attractive. In other words, a woman cannot be attractive if she is fat. Aerobics (gym) is
therefore one of their major activities, when they do not try to meet the opposite sex in parties, bars or discotheques.
This is their conception of having an exciting life for the time being. The feed back effect of such an exciting life and
such as independence is that they claim it would be a long time before they settle down with someone. This boiling mixture
of dreams, immediate experience of independence and intensive sexual encounters is satisfied in some ways by the brands they
smoke. " 26
Philip Morris, 1993. "As it is often the case, being stylish implies to hold the weight down and to remain
physically fit. Not surprisingly, the people to look up to as models are sexy and self assure people and consists at
least of socializing with sophisticated friends." 27
Brown and Williamson, 1995. "The recent BrandScape research identified key characteristics of Misty smokers.
Summed up into two words, the Misty smoker is both "Savvy" and "Sassy"; Savvy - rational, practical, feminine, price
conscious. Sassy - active, youthful attitude, confident. This type of information has allowed us to fine-tune Misty's
magazine selection, going beyond traditional quantitative data, age, income to include more qualitative insight into
who the Misty focus audience is." 28
Brown and Williamson, 1995. "Role of Print: Reach - Misty target is a heavy magazine reader ... Image - Vast
array of editorial formats (i.e.: service, beauty, fashion, entertainment) provide Misty advertising with numerous
'personalities' increasing relevancy and interest to broad scope of Misty target ... Beauty / Fashion: Allure, Bazaar,
Elle, Glamour, Mademoiselle, Mirabella, Vogue. Strong composition of younger portion of Misty target, editorial focus
appeals to the sociability of the Misty smoker, ideal format to showcase creative." 29
Download This Document
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21. R.J. Reynolds, June 14, 1984 (RJR, 500627236-7337)
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25. American Tobacco Company, 1993 November 17. (B&W/ATC, ATX040017950-ATX040017951).
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27. Philip Morris, Research Report YAMS/YAFS, 1993 (PM 2040885023)
28. Brown and Williamson, B&W Misty Media Plan Recommendation, 3 March 1995. (B&W 432010732).
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