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Stogie Commentary: Cigars for Women, A Double Standard?

10 Mar 2010

Two recent news items got me thinking about cigars for women. Both, I think, demonstrate a  clear double standard.

canadaFirst, Cubatabaco, Cuba’s national tobacco company, introduced a new cigar designed for women. Julieta is described as “a smaller, milder version of the Romeo y Julieta cigar.” Only days later, a classic sports moment played out: The championship team returned to the scene of their triumph to celebrate with some champagne, beer, and fine cigars. It looked just like Michael Jordan celebrating a championship,. The only difference was the athletes were women.

Soon the Canadian women’s hockey team was embroiled in controversy with one IOC official even saying, “I don’t think it’s a good promotion of sport values.” But given how common such celebrations are in sports, I couldn’t help but feel that a double standard was being applied, in part because these female champions had the audacity to celebrate with cigars in range of a camera.

The two incidents got me thinking about why cigars marketed to women tend to be either flavored or mild. I posed the question to Lindsay Heller, cigar blogger and tobacconist at Nat Sherman Cigars in New York.

“Honestly, I find it rather demeaning,” she told me by email. “This is not the Victorian Era anymore and it’s not considered illicit for a woman to be smoking, so why treat women who wish to smoke as if they can’t handle the ‘real thing?'”

She continued: “In terms of marketing those products towards women I think it’s insulting because in many B&Ms when a woman comes in wanting a cigar the sales associate automatically assumes something flavored. If you give a woman half a chance and explain to her the cigar she will be smoking, you’ll probably find that even the most inexperienced of female smokers will appreciate it and ditch the Havana Honeys. I think the same thing goes for the mild scenario:  If a woman wants to smoke a cigar after eating filet mignon and drink a few glasses of Bordeaux, any tobacconist in their right mind would not offer her a Macanudo Gold Label. In the tobacco business we need to stop addressing women as these fragile figures because women have palates, too.”

As for the new Cuban Julieta cigar, Lindsay had her doubts: “Maybe this is my palate talking, but I don’t find the traditional Romeo y Julieta Cuban cigars to be all that strong, so if this is truly that much more mild, it would probably be like smoking an expensive ultra light cigarette.”

So how should the cigar industry market their cigars to female smokers? “Women definitely need to be addressed like they are just one of the guys,” she responds.

“While the numbers of female cigar smokers in the U.S. are increasing due to a number of factors (curiosity, joining a boyfriend/husband in the activity, etc…) seeing a woman smoke cigars is still very taboo for Americans and it’s not looked at as nearly an oddity in other countries. I work in this business and there are random people who walk into my store and react like I’m doing some illegal by being a female with a cigar in my mouth. It’s funny because I actually find more men smoke flavored or infused smokes like Acids and Tabak Especiales and many of the women I come across are more apt to try a traditional cigar…Women are not stupid and shouldn’t be treated like they can’t handle what the boys do.”

On that point I couldn’t agree more. With the cigar industry under pressure from smoking bans and other anti-cigar legislation, it shouldn’t come as a surprise to see efforts to attract new customers. But treating women like they can’t enjoy the same wide range of fine cigars as men is just, well, sexist.

Patrick S

photo credit: Boston.com

Drew Estate

14 Responses to “Stogie Commentary: Cigars for Women, A Double Standard?”

  1. Nick Tuesday, March 9, 2010 at 10:56 pm #

    being that i am from vancouver and was here for the olympics i know that it wasnt so much that the team was smoking cigars and drinking it was that one of the players was acutally underage. She was 18, the drinking and smoking legal age here is 19. Now im not sure of the actual law if it is illegal to smoke or drink under 19 or if its illegal to purchase under 19.

  2. Chris V Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 2:54 am #

    That makes a little more sense. HOWEVER, on the world stage that doesn't seem to be what people are talking about.

    That said, I agree with all the the young lady's quotes in this article except one… I fully disagree that women should be marketed to the SAME as the boys. Granted, I think it's hot as hell when a girl smokes, especially with me, and I'd rather have something nice than a dog rocket with sugar water infused… THAT SAID if this is a goal we wish to accomplish then we can't market to women the same. They are looking for different outcomes from the product. Us guys may be looking for macho and relaxing, while they may be looking for sophistication and being with a loved one (cigar smoking significant other?) That's a generalization, but it's not overboard to say women looks for different things in the same products. For instance I recently did a workshop with ABInBev (most will know them as Anheiser Busch and others) and it was highly stressed the need to market separately to the female demographic… EVEN IF FOR THE SAME PRODUCT.

    Chris

  3. stinkie Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 3:30 am #

    It's funny that this was the first article that showed up in my RSS reader this morning. I was just reading the Winter 09 Cigar Magazine last night about a group of cigar smoking ladies that call themselves the Cigar Babes http://www.cigarbabes.org. From my understanding this group is mostly out helping third world countries but they also visit many cigar factories and have even worked with cigar companies on what females like in cigars and how they could market to them.

    I think over all the cigar industry is starting to try to market to females in a way that works and I think the tide is starting to change on the whole female=flavored cigars.

    As for the Canadian hockey team and their celebration with beer and cigars. I read one article on this and nowhere in it did it say that when the beer and cigars came out the crowd watching were gone and T.V. cameras were off. These girls celebrated as a team and was not doing so with people in the stands.

    I don't know the laws of Canada but here in the U.S. if a parent allows a underage child to drink a beer it is legal (at least last I heard). If I were the 18 year olds father I would have allowed her to have a beer after the game. I don't have any issue with that. But I never even heard of that argument here.

  4. Gary Korb Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 5:35 am #

    I have interacted with many women smokers over the years, and IMO there are two camps: those who smoke for fun, perhaps because their boyfriends and/or husbands do, and those who really appreciate cigars. From what I've seen, the latter are every bit as educated and dedicated to the leaf as the men. Although I can see the why marketing to women might be viewed as a good idea in some circles, the market for women cigar smokers as a whole is pretty slim. I see no reason or need for a "woman's cigar."

  5. George E Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 5:56 am #

    Interestingly, my understanding is that the player, Marie-Philip Poulin, whose drinking drew so much attention because she's 18 and the legal drinking age in Vancouver is 19, lives in Quebec, where the legal age is 18.

  6. Robert Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 7:20 am #

    I don't see sexism here at all. I think that the issue is a marketing one, and from that perspective, they are doing the right thing in this circumstance. They may be talking about the strategy in the PR releases in an awkward way, but I think what they are doing makes good strategic sense. Let me explain…

    To me, when these companies talk about marketing to women, I take it to mean they are marketing to attract NEW customers to the cigar industry; the specific market they are targeting is female, and they obviously want them to buy their cigars and stick with the hobby. The most important part of this is that these women are new customers who need to have a good first experience. I make this assumption b/c there's no reason to market to existing female cigar smokers – there are just not enough of them to constitute a profitable enough segment to offset the costs of a full-on marketing campaign that only aims to get a certain percentage of them to try a different cigar.

    If it's the case that they are looking to attract new female smokers with these campaigns – and the last line or two of your essay seems to suggest it is – then it makes perfect sense to lure new customers in with flavored and mild cigars. No first-time cigar smoker, male or female, sits down to an LFD Cheroot or Tat T110 and becomes a cigar convert.

    Furthermore, for something to be "sexist," I'd say it would have to apply to one sex and not the other. But, of course, there are mild and flavored smokes aimed at male customers as well as female. Macanudo, Drew Estates (with their slinky models)…I mean, how many male smokers started their cigar smoking career with a Drew Estates Acid? I'd say half the smokers I know started that way. The other half started with Macanudo or Ashton. So they are not just marketing milder or flavored smokes only to women, they are marketing them to men as well, which kind of deflates the "sexist" marketing argument. The real issue, again, is newbie versus long timer. A newbie's palate is going to appreciate the milder and flavored smokes more. The second issue is making sure your company talks about it this way and doesn't seem to suggest women only like or can handle mild cigars.

    I just don't see sexism here. I see companies operating with limited marketing budgets, trying to make the most of their money by attracting new female smokers and ensuring that their first cigar experience is a positive (i.e., mild or flavored) one. From that perspective I think they are doing the right business thing. But they need to talk about it more carefully and make sure they don't suggest that women's palates, per se, are not capable of handling strong cigars. It's important to note that the particular women they are targeting are new to the hobby, and that newbie's palates in general cannot handle strong cigars.

    As a marketing consultant, I'd also say that they need to target women with their own ads. I can't see the "dude with a hot chick hanging out in the background" ads ala Padilla or Room 101 attracting many new female customers. Again, existing women smokers will overlook those things as part of the cigar culture, but new customers may not, and probably won't resonate with the ads, and may even be offended by the secondary, eye-candy role that women play in these ads.

  7. Chris V Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 7:49 am #

    It's great responses like this (hats off to Robert) that make me love (more than just reading articles) in participating in this website. Just out of curiosity, what sort of marketing sectors do you deal with Robert. I got my bachelor's in international business and am currently getting my master is entrepreneurship (with ideas for a brand of my own one day) so I'm always interested in this sort of stuff.

    Chris

  8. Patrick S Wednesday, March 10, 2010 at 1:14 pm #

    Robert, Chris and others,

    Thanks for the great comments.

    Just to clarify, I don't think it's sexist to market products differently to ladies than you would to guys. Obviously, certain ads that might appeal to to men probably won't appeal to women. (I'm looking at you Arganese, with your "man with a wedding band in a hot tub surrounded by two busty blonds" ads.)

    What bothers me, is the implication that female smokers are somehow limited in what they might like to mild or flavored/infused smokes.

    Personally I reject the idea that a new smoker (man or woman) need to be introduced to mild cigars first. I often give new smokers something more medium-bodied so that they can more easily distinguish the flavors. In fact in many cases, I think the subtleties of a mild cigar are lost on newbies, where as a more experienced palate might pick up on the intricacies of mild cigars like, say, a Davidoff Mille series.

    So if you're trying to attract new female smokers why is it that we never see an ad declare: "A bold cigar for a bold woman" or something similar?

    That's what bothers me: All types of cigars are marketed to men: bold, medium-bodied, mild, flavored, infused, full-flavored, etc. But time and time again cigars marketed to women are mild and/or flavored.

  9. Robert Thursday, March 11, 2010 at 7:17 am #

    Patrick,

    Good point about the advertising of all types of cigars to men. But lets not forget that these companies are just starting to market to women. Cigars are, and have been, a "man's" thing for a long time. So, 1) cigar companies have a lot of experience marketing to men, the market has segmented itself by now, and there are many more examples of ads to choose from – you're mentally comparing hundreds of examples of ads aimed at men to a handful of examples of ads aimed at women; and 2) women may or may not pan out as a market. Again from a business perspective, there's no telling whether women will ever get on board with this hobby in large numbers. So, you'd want to focus your ads in a way that will have the most sure-fire bang-for-the-buck possible. It's not that new smokers "need" to be introduced to mild cigars first – it's just most likely that a mild or flavored cigar will be least likely to turn off a new smoker, and so is the usual way to introduce a non-smoker to the hobby.

    One more quick point – I'm not defending the cigar makers' personal convictions in this. I don't know whether they have an outdated or prejudiced view of women. They may. Sometimes their wording, especially in press releases, suggests that they do. They should be careful about giving off that vibe.

    I'm just speaking to whether this type of marketing strategy is inherently sexist. I don't think that it is. Let's remember that we're looking at only a handful of ads over a short period of time. It's tough to claim there's a bias at work with such a small sample to work with. We have to remember that these companies are working with small budgets. The cigar industry is a small industry to begin with, and potential female smokers are a very small fraction of all cigar smokers. Even if these ads were to work, which I'm not convinced they will (but that's another comment for another thread!), the net gain from them would be small.

    My point is that they have to operate with profitability in mind, and so have to take the avenue that will be most likely to resonate with the majority of the group they are wooing, at least until that group is wooed and they can begin to segment along preferences. If women come on board en masse, I think you'll then see ads aimed at different types of female smoker. Right now, there just aren't enough female smokers to do that type of advertising, and such segmented ads are not the way to woo new customers in the numbers you'd need to make it profitable (in any industry).

    Chris,

    I've worked with a bunch of clients in various industries, usually consumer products, healthcare, technology, sometimes alcohol.

  10. Barry Thursday, March 11, 2010 at 7:28 am #

    The one thing I don't get is if the problem was underage drinking more so then the smoking.. How come no one complained when BJ Upton of the Arizona Diamondbacks drank champagne at 19 years old the year the Diamondbacks won their division?

    I don't buy they are Olympic athletes as an excuse because professional athletes compete. So why should it be different?

  11. mikeaq Saturday, March 13, 2010 at 6:15 am #

    Interesting, i'll post more when i know more lol

    cheers

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