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GROUP DISCUSSIONS WITH WOMEN MARLBORO LIGHT SMOKERS

Date: 1991
Length: 12 pages
2040189709-2040189720
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Abstract

Reports on group discussions with young adult female Marlboro Lights smokers in regard to perception of Virginia Slims brand imagery. Details findings. Concludes that young adult female Marlboro Light smokers are not an appropriate target for Virginia Slims.

Fields

Type
Report
Company
Philip Morris
Site
N513
Named Person
Brown, Murphy
Dean, James
Eastwood, Clint
Gibson, Mel
Wayne, John
Named Organization
Leo Burnett Creative Research Council
Brand
Newports
Marlboro
Marlboro Lights
Capri
Eve
Virginia Slims
Thesaurus Term
Females
Young Adults
Market Segmentation
Brand Image
Marketing Research

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GROUP DISCUSSIONS WITH WOMEN MARLBORO LIGH'Ij SMOKERS BGT/91
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1. BACKGROUND As part of our creative exploration for Virginia Slims, it was decided that some in-depth feedback from female Marlboro Light smokers concerning their view of VS brand imagery would be help- ful. To that end, we conducted two group discussions with young adult (25-30 years old) female Marlboro Light smokers. The discussion format followed the same pattern as for the groups with VS users held in early April (Full outline is appended). The groups were held at the Leo Burnett Creative Research Workshop in Chicago on April 30.
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2. FINDINGS a. Smoking Habits and Attitudes In spite of the fact that the ML smokers in this study did not differ from the VS smokers in terms of their education or socio- economic group, we noted that they held very different attitudes towards the smoking controversy than did VS smokers. To begin with, they voiced none of the conflict or concern for non-smokers which so dominated the VS smokers' discussions. Indeed, in both ML groups, the subject of non-smokers' attitudes towards, perceptions of, and reactions to non-smokers had to be probed for - it simply was not a top-of-mind issue for these women. To be sure, these women were certainly aware that smoking is an "issue" and that there is societal pressure on smokers not to smoke in public places; that's why there were so many comments in the room to the effect of, "It's nice to be someplace where it's okay to smoke." Further, a few of them made references to being "more concerned about smoking as I age," or referred to past attempts to quit smoking, or to the possibility that "at some time" in the future they would quit smoking. But those comments were few and far between. Additionally, they differed most from VS smokers in that the VS smokers tended to empathize with non-smokers and to view the controversy as "My problem;" conversely, ML smokers did not give non-smokers any quarter and clearly saw the issue as "their (non- smokers') problem." As a result of this attitudinal difference between the two brand franchises, there were distinct differences in smoking behaviors: for example, where some VS smokers said that they wouldn't smoke in public places (even when allowed) because they didn't want to annoy (or incur the disapproval of) non-smok- ers, ML smokers said, "I can understand why you can't smoke in an airplane - there's no place for the smoke to go. But in other places, if it's bothering (a non-smoker), let them move, not me. They've got their (non-smoking) sections, this is mine." It appeared that part of the reason that ML smokers did not feel the societal pressures that VS smokers did is that they seemed to live much more in a "world of smokers." That is, where VS smokers tended to feel "isolated," as part of a small, and dwindling, minority group, many (though, certainly, not all) ML smokers told us, "All (or most of) my friends (or family) smoke." Further, ML smokers denied that being a smoker was in any way a social liabil-
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3. ity: while many VS smokers felt that, "Men don't want to get involved with a woman who smokes," ML smokers all seemed to find plenty of smoking males who wanted to date (or live with) them. And not only were these ML smokers unconcerned about possible rejection by non-smokers, they, in fact, seemed to be doing the rejecting: "If a guy doesn't like me because I smoke, then good-bye. I'm not changing who I am for someone else." "I'd rather be around smokers because they're a lot more fun than non-smokers - they're more carefree, more out- going. Non-smokers don't drink, they don't do anything." "I've got a couple of friends who don't smoke, but they don't give me any grief like most non-smokers. If they did, I wouldn't hang out with them." On the face of it, there appears to be a conflict between the VS smoker's perception that "nobody smokes but me" and the ML smok- er's view that "all my friends smoke." But there are many reasons that these two views can exist and both be "correct". For example, it may be that these women live in two different worlds: that is, ML smokers may have grown up in smoking house- holds and know a greater number of smokers, hence, are less con- flicted about smoking because their usage is reinforced by others. Or, perhaps, ML smokers (actively or unconsciously) seek out the company of other smokers to reinforce their positive feelings towards (and avoid non-smokers disapproval of) smoking. Or, possibly, isolating smokers into areas where they are interacting only with other smokers causes some smokers to feel "alone" while it reinforces others' perception that "everyone around me smokes". The likelihood is that all of the above are true to some extent. However, the point to be made here is that we should not conclude that because there are two diametrically opposed views expressed by these two segments that one is "right" and the other is "wrong." We also observed that VS and ML smokers differed in another impor- tant aspect, that being that ML smokers seemed to en'o smoking more than did VS smokers. Unlike VS smokers, ML smokers talked a great deal about the satisfaction and pleasure derived from smoking and rarely attributed any negative effects to smoking.
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4. Further, these women seemed to be greater "connoisseurs" of tobac- co than were VS smokers: whereas VS smokers seemed to see only gross differences between brands or types of cigarettes ("light" versus "harsh"), ML smokers talked much more specifically about the differences in tobacco flavors and quality as determinants for brand choice; indeed, they actually seemed to be "examining" cigarettes more closely, noting subtle flavor, freshness, and quality differences. Certainly, these women thought of themselves as connoisseurs - or at least, viewed smoking as a more important part of their lives than did VS smokers: without probing, ML smokers commented, "I'm a serious smoker:" "I love to smoke - I love everything about it;" and, "I'm not a casual smoker." As a result, they eschewed "long, thin women's cigarettes," not only because they were seen as providing an inferior smoke ("like puffing on air"), but also because, "They look like they're for women who really don't smoke, but just want to pretend they do." b. Brand Usage and Attitudes When talking about their smoking history, it was clear that these women had settled on their brand with less experimentation than had the VS smokers, though ML was rarely the first brand they smoked. Rather, it appeared that the first brand most of these women smoked was a menthol (Newports mentioned most often); a couple, however, started with "Reds" (Marlboro regular). But, regardless of what brand they first smoked, it was chosen because, "That's what my friends smoked." But, generally, those who started with menthols said, "I hated the taste of menthol," and soon switched to Reds. At some point - and it differed for these various women - they made the switch from Reds to ML, and it would appear that the switch was made because of concerns over tar content, though only a few directly stated that such was the case. However, others alluded to the fact that, "If I could, I'd still be smoking Reds - I really think they're the best." However they got to ML's, once there, these women were extremely loyal to their brand and claimed not to experiment with others. To be sure, these women have, at one time or another tried other brands, but that was under "forced" circumstances, i.e., "bumming" from a friend who smoked another brand; inability to get ML's in a "captive" situation (e.g., at a bar). But most were adamant that even out-of-stocks would not force them to switch away from ML's: "If they don't have (ML's), I get in my car and I go to the next store;" and, "Cigarettes aren't like toilet paper -just any brand won't do. You can tell the difference, and I don't like any other brand."
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5. It is clear from the way these women talked about ML that ML is not completely a brand unto its own (as is Virginia Slims) but rather, ML is Marlboro, albeit in a slightly altered version. For example, when asked what it is they liked about ML, smokers gener- ally referenced Reds, i.e., "They taste close to/are indis- tinguishable from Reds," "They have the same rich/good tasting/ flavorful tobacco as Reds," or, "They satisfy me (almost) as much as Reds." At the same time, ML's were seen as providing a "lighter," "smoother," and/or "less irritating" smoke. Others also noted that, "The Marlboro name is a classic one in cigarettes: it means the tobacco is quality and always fresh." c. Brand Images ML smokers agreed with VS smokers that the brand image of Marlboro is "rugged, macho cowboys," "construction workers," "guys with Zippo lighters," and is personified by such actors as John Wayne, Clint Eastwood, James Dean, and Mel Gibson. However, unlike VS smokers, they clearly delineated the brand imagery of Reds from Lights: while they believed that ML may share some product charac- teristics or some general "corporate quality" imagery with Reds, by no means did it share Reds' machismo: "Marlboro is male, but Lights is different - it's neu- tral." "One of the reasons I smoke Lights is that I prefer an androgynous cigarette." That these women did not personally empathize with Marlboro's macho imagery may have been expected: however, it's important to note that they did not distance themselves from the machismo imagery merely because they saw it as excluding women. Rather, these ML smokers seemed to feel that any gender stereotyping was somewhat passe: for example, when talking about what it takes to succeed in the workplace today, one ML smoker commented, "I don't think a woman has to be macho; but then, I don't think a man has to be, either." Given that these women objected to any gender stereotyping, it followed, then, that cigarette brands with "strictly female" images didn't hold any appeal for them either: "I try to stay away from women's cigarettes. I don't like (using any product) that brands you as a woman." As a result, these women rejected such "women's brands" as Capri and Eve, seeing them (just as VS smokers had) as "frou-frou feminine" cigarettes, like "Pink drinks with umbrellas in them," for "ultra-passive," "submissive women."
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6. But unlike VS smokers, these women didn't have a much higher opinion of Virginia Slims; however, their negative view of the brand took a couple of different forms, depending upon the level of "life experience" or sophistication of the smoker. The ML smokers in our sample, though all between the ages of twenty five and thirty, seemed to break into two sub-segments. The first segment, who tended to be at the younger end of the spec- trum, were still "searching" for their identity, were still not settled in a "real career," and as a consequence, were somewhat intimidated by all the major life choices they were facing. The second segment tended to be at the upper end of the age spec- trum, and as they have had a few more life experiences under their belts, were more confident, more sure of themselves and where they were going, and saw "choices" as less daunting (to a large extent, because they'd already made some). While both segments of women viewed VS (and all other "women's cigarettes) very negatively, their own life situations clearly affected their specific image of Virginia Slims. To the younger, less confident woman, VS was seen as a strident feminist - and "feminist", in their minds meant "anti-male": "She's a man basher. (Why?) Look at all the comments in the date book - 'men have done you wrong'." "She's a feminine supremacist - like the opposite of a male chauvinist pig. (Why?) Because (in the ads they show) women sneaking cigarettes - like some man is going to beat you if you smoke." "It's a tough image - a dyke; someone who has no use for men." For these women, such an image was not only unattractive, but, further, it was "old hat": "It's outdated. It separates men from women. Who cares if we've come a long way? I consider myself to be equal, but I don't think about it a lot." "It's making (it seem like there's) more of a problem than there is."
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7. Conversely, the more experienced ML smokers' negative view of the brand image was due to their perception that VS advertising con- veyed an outdated, sexist, anti-feminist view of women: "Virginia Slims doesn't understand the feminist movement at all. The movement is about jobs, these ads aren't." "This ad talks about how women couldn't get appointed to the board. And then they show this blonde bimbo in torn jeans, sitting in an explicit sexual pose. This woman represents the '90's woman who's going to get appointed to the board of directors? Come on!" "Who are these women? They're dated, not at all hip or representative of women today. She (white dress) is a cheap model, she (brown pant suit) is a wannabe male, and she (red pants suit) is a ditz right out of the '60's." "This (woman in jeans ad) is such a superficial view of women. I don't want to be hired because I'm blonde and I might be a good fuck." "They're trying to say women are liberated, but these women are fluff, weak - their body language doesn't convey confi- dence at all." Further, these women felt that the meaning of "You've come a long way" and the use of "Baby" was both inappropriate and insulting: "Women don't want to be reminded of the bad old days." "It's like congratulating us for coming out of someplace we never should have been. It's like congratulating a Black for coming out of slavery." "Calling me 'Baby' is patronizing and offensive. It's the kind of thing construction workers call out to you." "(Our generation) didn't have to fight to get the vote, but we still have to fight words like 'Baby'." But all of the above comments should not be taken to mean that if we revise VS advertising in some way, we can answer their objec- tions and make VS more attractive to them. Unfortunately, it is not only the specifics of our advertising imagery which they object to: rather, they reject the basic "cigarette for women" positioning - however that woman is portrayed:
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8. "The woman who smokes Virginia Slims is like Murphy Brown - a woman working in a male world who has problems with her feminine identity." "If you smoke a woman's cigarettes it's like using feminine wiles instead of your integrity to get a job." "I think that women who smoke Virginia Slims are looking for something that reinforces who they are. So are men who smoke Mariboros (Reds). Marlboro Light smokers aren't: I don't need a cigarette to state who I am." But is it true that smoking ML doesn't "state who I am"? Cer- tainly, these women had a difficult time answering the question, "What is ML's image?". Many denied that it had a user image at all, and that it only conveyed, "Someone who smokes for satisfac- tion," "Someone who appreciates quality tobacco." But it's also true that these women referred to ML as "neuter," "androgynous," or "Equal - anybody can smoke it." Further, some women in each group made references to liking B&H ads because, "They show both men and women smoking it - just enjoying the cigarette." It would appear, then, that ML does have a user image, though it may be that the user is more easily described by what he/she is not than by what he/she is. And, further, it appears that what these women had to say about themselves is key to understanding what the image of ML is. d. ML Smokers Personal Imagery It is intriguing to note that when these women talked about them- selves, about what a woman had to be in the '90's to succeed, and how their lives differed from that of their mothers, their conver- sation was not all that different from that of VS smokers. For example, all of these women believed that a woman had to be strong, self-reliant, "tough," and independent. They also believed that women had to be prepared to compete with men on the job, even though they felt that the deck was still stacked against them in the workplace: "I'm in training for the police force. And I know that I'm going to have to take a lot of garbage because I'm a woman. But, hey, if that's what it takes." 1--" -12
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9. "I'm in the record business and I know that the casting couch still exists. You can't let that get to you. You've got to force them to evaluate you on your terms." But whereas VS smokers seemed to feel "making it in a man's world" left them.needing some kind of badge of femininity, these ML smokers felt that a "feminine badge" (in this case, a woman's cigarette) weakened their position. To be sure, it was not that these ML smokers felt that femininity was bad - indeed, they very much valued what they called "feminine traits" - but, rather, they felt that femininity works against women in the workplace. There- fore, they needed to "set aside" feminine traits for their "pri- vate lives:" "I think there are lots of positive sides of femininity - openness, sensitivity, compassion. But I think those (traits) can be abused by men in the workplace - they use them to take advantage of you." "I think women are more sincere, more caring, more communi- cative than men. But I don't think those traits are as valued (on the job) as being aggressive - male traits." "I like being a woman; I have no desire to be a man. But I think that society thinks 'feminine' means 'weak'." "It's a nice thing to be called 'Baby' at one in the morn- ing. On the job, it's an insult." Certainly, these ML smokers felt that it is definitely "better for women today" than in their mothers' time given that, "We have more choices - we can choose what kind of life we want. We don't have to get married right away and have babies to have an identity." "Our mothers' identity depended upon who they married. We can be who we want." But at the same time, they felt that it is more difficult for women today in that "People are more confused about sex roles. In the old days, women may have been frustrated, but they knew what their role was." That difficulty is compounded by the fact that they believe, "Most men still want a traditional woman."

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