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Swisher Ain't Sweet

1999
Marlboro Mild

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HOME > 1999 MARLBORO MILD > MARLBORO MILD CAMPAIGN

"What I have the most trouble with is targeting blacks specifically. I don't think we should make a specific pitch to them . . . I think a better strategy would be to let Kool and Newport fight for black males while we preempt the white market."
(from a 1984 Philip Morris secret document)

The Marlboro Mild Campaign

Philip Morris piloted its new Marlboro Mild menthol brand in two test cities in 1999 year with two different scenarios. In Pittsburgh, a city that has a Black population of approximately 26%, the focus was on the general population with a skew toward the college-aged, trendy set. In Atlanta, unlike Pittsburgh, the marketing of Marlboro Mild was clearly oriented toward the Black community, but also with a skew toward the college-aged, trendy set.

Concerned citizens in both cities organized into grassroots groups to protest the test-marketing by Philip Morris of its new mentholated cigarette brand—Marlboro Milds. The groups were the Atlanta Campaign Against Marlboro Milds in Fulton County, GA and the Greater Pittsburgh Coalition Against Marlboro Milds in Allegheny County, Pennsylvania. Both groups used the acronymn CAMM. Simultaneous news conferences opposing the test-marketing of Marlboro Milds occurred on Monday, October 18 at 10:00 a.m. in both Atlanta and Pittsburgh. In both cases, the National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery (NAAAPI) and The Onyx Group provided support in coalition-building efforts designed to recruit African Americans into tobacco prevention and control activities, using the threat of Marlboro Mild as the focal point.

According to the 1990 census, Atlanta was second only to Detroit among major cities with a concentration of African Americans, with a Black population of nearly 70%. Atlanta also has a cluster of Black colleges -- a prime audience for tobacco marketers with the increased emphasis on restricting sales to persons under 18. It is not clear whether the dual focus of the Marlboro Mild test market was designed to test two different marketing strategies or whether Pittsburgh's general market focus was as a deliberate smoke-screen so that Philip Morris could disguise what it was doing in Atlanta. It is also possible that the uproar against the target-marketing of a new mentholated cigarette caused Philip Morris to revise its original plans.

The idea of targeting African American communities with menthol cigarette brands is not new. In 1990, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company tried to introduce a menthol cigarette brand called Uptown cigarettes, but was unable to do so because of community pressure. Uptown was followed in 1995 by a menthol brand called "X" in Boston. Two years later, there was a national roll-out of Camel menthols. These efforts were unsuccessful because the communities across the country mobilized to prevent the new menthol brands from getting a foothold and addicting Black youth. Menthol brands have special risks for smokers.

After a few months it became apparent that in the Pittsburgh test market, Philip Morris was not using Black media to promote Marlboro Mild and the new brand was not being placed exclusively in the Black community. The only indication of a difference from the standard Marlboro advertising was that in Marlboro Mild advertisements, the cowboy was no longer obviously White but was of an indeterminate race, either because the face and hands weren't showing or because the cowboy was entirely in silhouette with no features visible.

In response, the advocates in Pittsburgh regrouped and developed a more generic tobacco prevention and control project for the local African American population, using the energy and organization that had been generated around the Marlboro Mild initiative. The coalition changed its name to the "Allegheny County Coalition Against Tobacco Use" and was awarded a maxi-grant on February 1, 2000, by the Pennsylvania Tobacco Prevention Network (PTPN) to conduct a clean indoor air campaign targeted toward the African American community. That campaign, "Not in Mama's Kitchen" originally was developed by the African American Tobacco Education Network (AATEN) in California.

In Atlanta, the situation has been quite different. In a dramatic switch for Philip Morris' Marlboro brand, advertisements for Marlboro Mild have appeared in Atlanta mass media designed to reach African American college students and young adults. Marlboro Mild cigarettes and point-of-purchase advertising can be found throughout Atlanta's Black communities. As a result, the Campaign Against Marlboro Mild has continued its grassroots organizing activities and largely through efforts led by local Black clergy, the Campaign has convinced several local tobacco retailers in the Black community to remove Marlboro Mild from store shelves..

Philip Morris has now rolled Marlboro Mild out as a national brand but without overt targeting to African Americans in the advertisements or special advertising in Black publications. However, African American tobacco prevention coalitions are remaining alert to any efforts of the company to target Black youth.

News Story:
"Group Hopes to Extinguish Sales of New Cigarette," by Ervin Dyer, Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, October 19, 1999.

Updated 5/26/00

The Marlboro Mild Campaign.

Fact sheet for the lawsuit.

Fact sheet for menthol in cigarettes.

Article about the Menthol lawsuit.

Other media coverage on the lawsuit.

The Civil Rights lawsuit.



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National Association of African Americans for Positive Imagery
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