Marketing Addiction vs. Marketing Health

cigs.jpg By Jason Smith

The book, Marketing Management 12e, by Kotler and Keller, introduces one of the shortest definitions of marketing there is; “meeting needs profitably.” After reading that definition I was shopping at Long’s drugstore in Santa Cruz when I noticed something that struck me as odd consumer-based marketing. The cigarettes (product) were displayed along the wall so that you would see them as you were checking out (place and promotion). Next to the cigarettes were nicotine gums, patches, and assorted other tools for quitting smoking. The cigarette display cases were exciting and bold colors of red, white, and black. They evoked a sense of adventure and at the same time relaxation; the good things in life. While the colors of the cases displaying tools for quitting were faded, out of focus, sterile blues and whites. The case made me feel like I might have a cold just looking at it. It was clear that these cigarette substitutes were medicines. It looked like it was attempting to appeal to folks who were ill. Clearly, the display cases were mismatched. Quitting cigarettes renews your life and gives you back the good things in life that you were missing.

If the manufacturers of the gums and patches were out to “meet needs profitably” surely they would market there products as life enhancing, sporty, yet mature, goods. Instead, they make one feel sick and desperate just to look at them. What gives?

nicorette.jpgMy first guess is that the gums and patches are produced by the same manufacturers as the cigarettes. If this is the case, it is obvious that they would want to sell less substitutes and more cigarettes given that cigarettes are addictive (repeat customers) and the substitutes, more often than not, are temporary not lifestyle purchases. If two products are produced by the same or related companies and in fact the gums and patches are truly being marketed in the best possible way, I have much yet to learn about marketing. I suspect that the marketers of cigarettes are happy to paint a false face on their products, a face that says “I will make you happy, sexy, athletic, and cool” even if it’s patently not true.

With addictive products, hard selling won’t backfire very often because even if they don’t “like” it, as in the case of many long-term smokers, they will buy it again. Another interesting aspect of cigarette marketing relating to the marketing text book mentioned above concerns the claim that “marketers do not create needs”. In the case of cigarettes there are probably a variety of latent needs that are at work when a person chooses to smoke, such as social status, relaxation, excitement, and fun, etc. However, when all of these needs can be met in ways that do not nurture “unwholesome demand”, who is responsible for bringing cigarettes as a solution to these pre-existing needs? Marketers make slow death look attractive by associating cigarettes with pre-existing needs that could be satisfied healthily and safely. The buck stops here.

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4 responses

  1. Jason … hmm, I like your reasoning here, but I think you need to do a little research on these. First there’s no evidence that cigs and patches are produced by the companies at all. Nicorette and Nicoderm are both made by GlaxoSmithKline, and so are most of the other products I could find by googling around. If you want to get crazy conspiratorial, use the “They Rule” tool to match up boards of directors with the “Find Connection” tool. GSK is not on the list because they are a UK company, but I tried to find connections beween Altria and any pharma/health company and found only one mutual connection to Pfizer… so that theory isn’t very strong.
    However, you make a good point about stop-smoking aids being marketed as medicine in a sterile and un-exciting way. I would think they’d do well to have a more cheery sales pitches – that said, NicoDerm is now sponsoring major Nascar Events – including a “NicoDerm 300” in Atlanta – see here. Not only is that exciting, it’s a straight shot at a big target market of smokers.
    I don’t know what the deal is with Long’s in Santa Cruz.

  2. I think of what I remember from Color theory and the blue and green colors are traditionally associated with health (and even sustainability, if you look at Green Marketing). I wonder if these manufacturers have done any testing with other, more vibrant color schemes. My guess is that some of them may have – I tend to think there is an advantage to having them look like a medicine, but it also may be a case of “this is just the way things are done” because the products come from pharmaceutical companies.
    And intersting subtext of this question is – how much better would the marketing of sustainability perform with colors and graphics that promote trendy and cool lifestyles as opposed to health and wellness. Check out what eco-fasion companies such as SustainableStyle foundation are doing. This is a new and positive development in green marketing, and if it works, could have great results for people and the environment.

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