Friday, September 16, 2005

Not "Fair Enough" to Blacks

[Cross-posted on The Agitator.]

The latest salvo in's ongoing anti-smoking campaign is "Fair Enough", a mock-sitcom supposedly based on actual Big Tobacco brainstorming sessions. Here's the transcript of one episode (available on the website) about an idea to market cigarettes to black people. I've omitted the laugh tracks.
SUPER: This episode of Fair Enough is based on a 1990 Big Tobacco proposal.


EXECUTIVE: We've talked about targeting young adults and women. What about a cigarette targeting inner-city blacks. Any ideas?

MAN 1: Blacks have less money. Let's offer a 10-pack.

MAN 2: Perhaps we could utilize the popularity of "rap" music.

EXECUTIVE: (using air quotes) "Rap" music, yes.

MAN 1: We should call them "Fat Boys." [The Fat Boys were a rap group popular in the late 1980s. -- GW]

EXECUTIVE: Yes, yes.

MAN 3: How about this: (reading from his notepad) "You know you're cool, you know you're the man, when you've got a Fat Boy in your hand."


SUPER: It would be funny if it weren't true.
Okay, I'll concede that the conversation is funny in a white-men-can't-rap kind of way. But is there anything especially damning about the content of this meeting? Is something unethical about the tobacco companies thinking of marketing their product to (gasp!) minorities? Keep in mind that with other products, company executives get chastised for failing to target minorities. For example, the NAACP issues a report each year on the insufficient number of minority characters on television shows. Marketing to minorities is a sign of minorities' inclusion in the larger economy. And if marketing campaigns try to account for their differing economic conditions, so much the better.

But when it comes to cigarettes, marketing to blacks is suddenly a bad thing. Now, I'm sure the folks at would love to ban cigarette marketing entirely. But is it somehow worse to market to blacks? The implication is that blacks are less capable than whites of evaluating the risks of smoking and making a wise personal decision. Need I even mention how incredibly patronizing this attitude is? Other "Fair Enough" episodes lampoon the tobacco companies' plans for targeting young people. Implicitly, then, equates blacks with children. Given the Executive's first line in the transcript, I wonder if they feel the same way about women.


Over A. Barrel said...

I think the issue involved targeting "inner-city" blacks. Don't you think that they have enough problems with crime, gang violence, drug & alcohol addiction, poor schools, chronic unemployment, poverty, malnutrition, lack of adequate health care, etc. without being singled out by Madison Ave. to become addicted to toxic cigarettes? It seems to me that young people are always the prime target of tobacco ads. I suppose at the periphery, you might get a smoker to change brands, but mostly you'll convince kids to see smoking as desirable and the cool thing to do. Smoking isn't cool and it isn't desirable. So besides lying and peddling poison to a vulnerable group, I guess the ad men & women aren't doing anything wrong. Cough.

Z said...

It seems to me tobacco marketers have a facinating challenge. They are required to deliver anti-smoking marketing alongside their "choose our brand" campaigns. They need to appear to actively work to shrink the overall tobacco category while marketing to consumers only to fight for market share vs competition. Marketing 101 dictates targeting specific consumers - in the case of tobacco, the only acceptable pro-brand target is ethnic neutral (or white), gender neutral (or male), existing smokers of other brands. This leaves the anti-smoking ads to be creative with. To be effective with an anti-smoking campign from a business perspective, you must be purposefully innefective. That would mean doing the same diligence a normal brand would do to understand their consumers and what messages resonate with them, and avoid them like the plague. Your consumers are typically 40 year old males? - ok, run the anti campaign on Nickelodean using cartoon characters. Make ads that sound monotone, with uninteresting visuals and hackneyed style. Be like George Costanza: whatever you know about good marketing, do the opposite (without, of course, appearing to do so)

If you're really good, you could even attract young people by running uncool establishment-style anti-smoking ads on MTV to get teens to rebel and pick up smoking.

Glen Whitman said...

OAB -- what makes this group especially "vulnerable"? Is it the color of their skin? Or it it that they have other problems? If the latter, why should that matter? They still have the ability to decide whether to assume an additional risk.