How Product Managers Can Get Kids To Smoke Again

In order to sell more cigarettes, product managers need to get millennials to smoke more
In order to sell more cigarettes, product managers need to get millennials to smoke more

Image Credit: jmcmichael

There are many different types of product manager jobs. One of the more, shall we say delicate of these jobs, is that of being a product manager for a major tobacco company. It is your job to get people to consume more of your product – that means smoke more. It turns out that you currently have real problem on your hands, those young millennial kids are not smoking enough of what you are making.

The Problem With Millennials

Numbers don’t lie. Right now all of those “don’t smoke” TV ads seem to be doing their job. Roughly 85% of millennials don’t smoke. Of those millennials who do smoke, many of them don’t like the most popular cigarette brand on the market in the U.S.: Marlboro. I’m pretty sure that we are all very familiar with the marketing that has gone in to promoting the Marlboro brand over the years: the cowboy with the Stetson hat wearing blue jeans and sitting on a horse. The bad news for Marlboro is that this image is not working with the millennials. Oh, and the Marlboro cigarettes cost too much.

Starting in 2008 and going to 2011, Marlboro’s market share has taken a dive. It’s gone down to 43% of the smokers who are between 18-25 years old. These are the same young adults who are more focused on tattoos, black jeans, and motorcycles. These are the smokers who really don’t care to grow up to become cowboys. Marlboro’s “manly man” thing was not working with their millennial target audience.

The Marlboro product managers realized that they were dealing with two different challenges. The first, of course, was that the millennials were not selecting their products and their appeal was starting to slip. Additionally, Marlboro was starting to have a problem with their older smokers also. Marlboro cigarettes cost a great deal. When the 2008 recession hit, Marlboro’s older smokers suddenly had less disposable income and it became harder for them to buy what Marlboro had to offer to them. What the Marlboro product managers needed to do was to find a way to both appeal to young adults and to be less expensive. They needed to change their product development definition.

How To Solve The Millennial Smoking Problem

The solution to these problems that the Marlboro product managers came up with was to introduce a new brand of cigarette: Marlboro Black. This is a cigarette that has been designed specifically to appeal to millennials. It’s a cheaper version of the other Marlboro cigarettes and it has a bolder taste. This new brand of cigarettes is designed to give Marlboro a bold, modern take for their millennial target audience.

The Black line of cigarettes has been available for about five years. In its first year of being on the market it was able to grab 1% of the total U.S. cigarette market. This is the brand that has allowed Marlboro to gain its highest share of the U.S. market ever: 44.1%. Marlboro’s market share among 18-25 year old smokers has grown by 3% and now they have captured 46% of this lucrative market segment. All of a sudden the Marlboro brand has become relevant again. Now that’s something to put on your product manager resume.

In order to capture this part of the smoking market, the product managers have had to become creative. They have been going out to trendy clubs and handing out coupons for $1 packs of cigarettes. The company has also sponsored a set of digital shorts about graffiti artists and lowrider cars. The new Black line comes in a package that is all black. This has given it an upscale image. This has helped to boost its sales and has helped to increase sales of all of Marlboro’s products. The new Black brand has provided the Marlboro product managers with a way to restore the luster to a huge brand with broad appeal.

What All Of This Means For You

No, you may not find yourself in the same spot as the Marlboro product managers did: trying to find a way to sell more cigarettes to young adults. However, the challenges that they faced are very similar to the ones that a lot of us are facing: sales of our primary product may be declining as the tastes and preferences of our current customers and the next generation of customers, the millennials, start to shift. It’s time to go back and take a close look at your product manager job description What should you be doing?

The Marlboro product managers had an especially tough task ahead of them. A big chunk of the next generation of potential customers were not even smoking. Of the ones who were smoking, most were not selecting the primary Marlboro product. A solution needed to be found. The solution that the product managers came up with was to introduce a new brand called “Black” that costs less and has a distinctive taste. This new product has been a big hit. The product managers have changed the way that they market their cigarettes in order to appeal to their younger customers. They have started to go out to where millennials spend their time, have started to sponsor things that millennials watch, and they have packaged the new Blacks in a way that will make the millennials want to have them.

Yes, there are all sorts of tricky moral issues that come along with being a cigarette product manager. However, I think that we can all agree that even in difficult time and under challenging circumstances, the Marlboro product managers are doing a very good job. By creating a new brand and carefully targeting it towards the market segment that they want to capture, they are showing the rest of us how product management is supposed to be done.

– Dr. Jim Anderson
Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World Product Management Skills™

Question For You: What are the Marlboro product managers going to have to do to get more people to start smoking?

Click here to get automatic updates when
The Accidental Product Manager Blog is updated.

P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Product Manager Newsletter are now available. It’s your product – it’s your career. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I’m pretty sure that we’ve all had that feeling: it’s the “I want a burger” feeling. I’m not sure if I can really describe what it is, but there is a sudden need that we have to be filling our mouths with the rich satisfying feeling of consuming a big burger. The folks over at Shake Shack realized that we were all feeling this way. They also realized that the slimed down “always the same” burgers that we can get from McDonalds and Burger King just weren’t doing it for us. That’s why they created their signature burgers and were able to successful charge more for them. However, times are changing and Shake Shack needs their product managers to change their product development definition and help to find ways to keep growing.