Rampant Segmentism

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The Family Smoking Prevention and Tobacco Control Act that awaits President Obama’s signature could severely limit the magazine advertising run by cigarette makers, and the ad lobby is fuming over it. It was a $70 million business for U.S. magazines last year, and the industry could use every penny.

I’m more blown away by the details behind the expenditure.

It turns out that almost a third of that spend went to two magazines: Maxim and Playboy. If you add in Men’s Journal, Field & Stream, Sports Illustrated, Car and Driver, Popular Mechanics, and Road & Track, you account for more than two-thirds.

Clearly, the tobacco industry has targeted middle-brow, middle-aged guy’s guys as potential smokers. This is rampant segmentism, isn’t it?

It never would have occurred to me that anyone beyond their early teens would consider starting the habit, but then again, maybe the targets are those very people who might pick up, say, an issue of Maxim or Sports Illustrated? I think that’s what Congress believes, even if it still begs the question why a girl won’t be just as likely to take up the habit after sneaking a glimpse of an ad in Cosmo or Home & Garden.

Only that doesn’t make sense either, because the content of the ads has been so regulated and otherwise limited that it’s not likely those junior smokers would be much influenced by that medium. Research suggests that the primary drivers of smoking preference are the ubiquity of other smokers (mostly parents), and all the merchandise that goes along with it (Marlboro jackets, Winston hats, etc.). So even if the targeted segment is teenage boys, the ads probably aren’t even a sort-of good way to get at them). 

Maybe I’m just too dim of a bulb, but I honestly don’t understand the purpose of the advertising.

I get that cigarettes generically "go" with babes and working on your car, at least is some stereotypical way. Or maybe the connect makes most sense in some fantasy experience of those stereotypes (as in "the woman in the bar will think I’m old enough to drink if I’m smoking," or "that party before the NASCAR race would include beers, brats, and butts.").

But for brands to make that imagined association the basis of an advertising strategy…in 2009…well, that’s impossible, isn’t it? Doing so must be a holdover, or tradition. In that sense, the answer would be that they’re just very accustomed to doing it. Like a habit.

So it might prove to be as hard a thing to quit as smoking, even though it probably isn’t any better for the cigarette brands than lighting up is for their consumers. 

Original Post: http://dimbulb.typepad.com/my_weblog/2009/07/rampant-segmentism.html