Step 1: Create a product that is practical and addictive
Cigarettes are extremely practical. You can carry a packet of 20 doses neatly in your pocket, and lighting one up is never further than a matches stroke away. Furthermore, tobacco is highly addictive. This was all true before it became a widely available commodity. Today, if there is water near, there is most likely tobacco just as near.
If you’re thinking there is not so many such product out there, think again. Mobile phone for example is very similar to a pack of cigarettes, and now in the iPhone era just as addictive. If not worse.
Step 2: Make it a lifestyle choice, make it about being part of the in-crowd
When tobacco was popularized, it was seen as something cool. Even a status symbol. Just look at Madmen and think about being in that environment and not smoking. Smoking was seen as something exciting. Either you were one of the smokers or then you weren’t.
Less than 10 years ago in Indonesia an older man said to me “Mikko, if you want to be a real man, you smoke”. Indonesia is one of the leading manufacturers of Tobacco and has virtually no regulation related to smoking or promotion of smoking. Few years ago you could smoke in any government office or even a grocery store. As far as I know, nothing have changed.
A typical Indo tobacco advertisement positions smoking (surprise surprise) around excitement and being a man.
Step 3: Do whatever you can to keep people with your product
In the neighboring Malaysia, scarcely dressed young females venture the night from club to club selling cigarettes. After seeing hundreds of these pr girls, I’m comfortable assuming that attractiveness of the girl is a key feature in hiring.
If you’ve smoked in the past and quit or tried to quit, you know that you’re at your weakest in a bar setting after few drinks. People who smoke bring their own cigarettes, I used to bring two packs just to be sure. Why do you think the these huntress of the night circle the nightlife?
On the product development side of the fence, it is now commonly known fact that many of the additives in cigarettes exist in it solely to enhance the level of addiction consumption drives. Brands exist to drive commerce and product development always goes together with other activities.
Step 4: Only communicate the positives and do whatever it takes to hide the negatives
Tobacco went the extra mile to hide everything negative they knew about their product. If something got out for some reason, they didn’t shy away from using any possible tactic to shut it down. “No, Tobacco does not cause cancer” they said for decades. What do you do when it becomes impossible to deny? You do what the tobacco industry did, ignore it.
Step 5: Catch them while they’re young, when there is will there is way
This one is my personal favorite.
Once you’ve saturated the adult market, you go after the kids. That’s kind of obvious isn’t it? If your product is something not suitable for kids even in theory, like CRM for example, you can still reach out to your future prospects.
I’m born in Finland where I also spent most of my childhood. We had a tobacco advertising ban before the time of my birth in 1976. It was something that we took for granted, “tobacco is not that good for you so that’s why we’re protecting you and not allowing tobacco advertising”.
One of the favorite sports in Finland is and has been for a long time Formula-1 racing. Families would get together and watch the Friday and Saturday qualifications and then tune-in again on sunday for the actual race. This totals in good 5 hours of cars going around the circle per weekend, and there was 12 race weekends in a season. That’s 60 hours of F1 cars going around the circle. One of my clearest memories from childhood is watching the final moments of Las Vegas race in 1982 when Finnish Keijo “Keke” Rosberg won the world championship, I was 6 years old at the time.
The cars and tracksides alike were covered with colors and logos of big tobacco. There was Marlboro, Camel, Pall Mall and few others. These cars were the coolest tobacco ads, no, these cars were the coolest ads around. And they got people’s undivided and voluntary attention, from 3 years old onwards 12 weekends a year. F1 races did and still have some of the highest ratings in Finnish TV. This went on for decades, in countries many of which had laws in place to prevent tobacco from being advertised.
I started to smoke before I was 10 and so did many of my friends. When I quit 3 years ago, I had smoked for more than 20 years an average of pack per day. That’s over 7000 packs of cigarette. I had spent over $10,000 in cigarettes before I was legally allowed to buy it. How did I acquire them? Walk in to a store and buy them, obviously.
When I came to US as a 14 year-old boy, we stayed in North Carolina tobacco country. I would take the coupons from mailing order catalogues, send them to Winston-Salem and they would send few packs of Camel or one of their other flavors in return mail few days later. Delivered to right to my doorstep at zero cost. The postage in the coupons was paid by them. Gotta love it.
Step 6: Play Any Potential Future Competition Out of the Picture Before They Even Enter
How do you think that the idea of banning tobacco ads was popularized? The tobacco lobbyist took care of it. Can you imagine a better way to prevent someone entering your market than banning advertising? The tobacco marketers did eventually come up with an even more effective way.
Most of the world is enforcing warning labels on cigarette packs, usually utilizing pictures of cancer, defected babies or something equally shocking. How do you bring a new product to the market if you can’t advertise it, and your packaging is intended to turn people away. How do you build a brand when nobody sees your brand because there is a picture of black lung or the text “This product will kill you”? Imagine a mobile phone that warns you about how it’s going to boil your brain and make you sterile. Would you consider buying it if you weren’t miserably hooked on the brand already?
Going back to iPhone, in the light of the above, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw mobile phone industry applying similar tactics in the future. After all, it’s not like you’re going to go back to landline just because there is a risk of cancer involved.