Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Cigars? Cigarettes? Tiparillos? IQOS?

I grew up during the Great Era of Big Tobacco Advertising. Ask any Baby Boomer, and I’m pretty sure that 99.44% of them can fill in all of these blanks*.

  • Take a puff, it’s..
  • I’d walk a mile for a…
  • Winston tastes good, like a…
  • Step up to Dutch Masters, and smile…
  • Switch from hots to…
  • Call for….

One of my favorite smoke ads was for Tiparillos. The setting for the ad I recall is a swinging night club –check it out here; watch for the couple doing The Hitchhiker – and the main action is a cigarette girl making her way around the floor with her tray, purring, “Cigars, cigarettes, Tiparillos” to all those sexy, cooler-than-cool, dancers.

Smoking was everywhere: homes, offices, streets, movie theaters, airplanes. Even hospital rooms. As my father lay dying, he had to ask my Uncle Charlie not to smoke during his visits. I once saw a decades-old episode of Dr. Kildare (a popular show of the early 1950’s) in which Jim Kildare’s mentor, Dr. Gillespie, gets off an elevator at Blair General Hospital, cigarette dangling from his lips.

The tobacco industry was HUGE. Not just financially, but as a presence in our consciousness.

But that was then and this is now. Fewer people – at least in the US – smoke, and it’s considered pretty shameful and embarrassing to be a smoker.

But Big Tobacco, unlike the lungs of smokers, didn’t exactly shrivel up and die. It’s not like coal mining, for instance. Tobacco companies expanded overseas, encouraging all those young Chinese folks to light up. Some of them got into parallel businesses (junk food). I suspect that some of them are getting into wacky tabacky.

Mostly, I don’t spend a ton of time worrying about how the tobacco companies are faring.

Still, I was interested in a Bloomberg article I saw recently on how Big Tobacco is remaking itself.

Call for Philip Morris International’s new website and they’re touting that they’re “Designing for a smoke-free future.” And asking “How long will the world’s leading cigarette company be in the cigarette business?” (The US version of Philip Morris, while not exactly pushing everyone to smoke ‘em if they got ‘em, is a lot more tobacco-friendly than PM International.)

One thing they’re looking at is a “tobacco gizmo” called an IQOS.

To use an IQOS, you push a flavored packet of tobacco called a heatstick into the mouth of a tubular, pipelike holder, which is a bit smaller than a kazoo. When you press a button on the holder, it heats up a metal blade inside, which cooks the tobacco to roughly a third of the temperature of a traditional cigarette. Then you puff away. The tobacco is warmed without combusting, so it doesn’t release any fire, smoke, or ash. This, in  theory, makes it healthier to inhale when using heat-not-burn gadgets than when smoking, for instance, a run-of-the-mill Parliament. On the internet, various users have theorized that IQOS is an acronym for “I Quit Ordinary Smoking.”

The name IQOS? It:

“…has no meaning in particular—it’s meant to represent quality, technology, electronics, intelligent systems—because this is not a tobacco category.”

It seems to me that anything to do with putting a lighted object full of tobacco into your mouth ain’t never going to be an “intelligent system.” But why quibble. Mostly it pretty much sounds to me like vaping on an e-cigarette. There is, however, a difference:.

Executives say current smokers may be more likely to switch to an IQOS rather than to an e-cigarette, because they believe the heat-not-burn experience more closely resembles the taste and buzz of cigarettes. It’s a key selling point. Some packs of IQOS refills are marked with the slogan “The pleasure of heated tobacco.” The heatsticks, branded as Heets, look . like stumpy cigarettes with a filter on one end and the hyperprocessed golden-brown tobacco neatly packed in cigarette paper. Right now the tobaccomagineers are getting ready to field-test a disposable heat-not-burn product called Teeps, which looks like a standard cigarette.

Tobaccomaginers? Now there is a job title. And I’m sure for smokers, someone having imagined something that looks like a “standard cigarette” (even one with a name so close to Peeps) is a good thing Remember, holding a lit cigarette used to be considered sophisticated and alluring.

Philip Morris views its heatsticks as a “platform”. Ah, platform, one of those words that have crept into marketing over the last decade or so. In the tech world, every product is a platform. Every individual who wants to burnish their brand – brand: another word that’s crept in – must have a platform. And for tobacco, it’s not just a platform. It’s an intelligent system. (Sometimes I really despise the marketing profession.)

While they’re talking platform, Philip Morris is also talking end-of-lifing the cigarette business. Oh, they’re not using the term end-of-life. That – gasp - would be too close to home. But they do want to see it “sunsetting.” And they’re hoping that having a critical mass of smokers adopt IQOS (image: blue-green hummingbird) will help accelerate the process. None of this “I’d rather fight than switch.” (A Tareyton (image black eye) ad from the way back.)

Innovation fever isn’t limited to Philip Morris.

Everywhere you look in the industry, companies are pouring money into product development while borrowing liberally from the style of Silicon Valley. They’re funding tech incubators, running venture funds, hosting TED-style talks, and developing apps. The new dogma has spread. Cigarettes are the industry’s past. Reduced-risk tobacco platforms are the user interface of the future.

Tobacco executives often sound like media owners talking about content. That is, they’re open to delivering their drug via whatever pipe the consumer chooses—be it e-cigarettes, heat-not-burn devices, gum, lozenges, dip, or some medium that hasn’t been invented yet. They are, as the media gurus would say, “platform-agnostic.”

As it happens, I’m working on a data sheet for one of my tech clients,and I’ve actually had to deploy (another fine tech word) the term “platform agnostic.”

So that’s where I stopped reading.

A “platform-agnostic” intelligent nicotine delivery system.

Things were a lot simpler back when Lucky Strike Meant Fine Tobacco.


*Springtime; Camel; cigarette should; brother, smile; Kools; Philip Morris

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