R.J. Reynolds’ “Salem Black Initiative,” 1989

This 1989 R.J. Reynolds marketing report summarizes a company brainstorming session to find ways to increase sales of Salem cigarettes to African Americans. It exemplifies how marketers view a target audience and try to appeal to them, in this case to market an addictive and deadly product. The report concludes that “the best way to reach minority consumers is through their local communities.” It says,

“…the brand’s support must be seen as being backed by other blacks — not as a big white company’s tactic to sell to blacks. If Salem can become a positive contributing factor to blacks’ economic and personal well-being, it could ultimately be ‘unpatriotic to smoke anything else.”

RJR's 2004 Kool Mixx campaign featured images of rappers, DJs and dancers on cigarette packs and in ads.

The marketers say “Salem should be seen as a friend,” and suggest ways to play up the positive aspects of [young adult] black smokers and their lifestyle, listing words and fashion items from the African American community at the time:

“…fresh” “fade” (kill) “bank” (money) “hooked”(together) “chillin'” “def” (cold, funky, hard, it’s happening) “stylin'” “dis” (disrespectful) – lots of bracelets – 2-3 holes in ear (African influence) – nose studs – fades, parts, braids – thrashed jeans – micro spandex shorts – side snap warm-up suits…”

The report suggests ways to “contribute to the target’s personal well-being” by “bolstering their self-perceptions and feeding their self esteem.” It says cigarette promotions should “speak to the fun side of inner city life,” should say, “It’s OK to be black, hang out, and have fun,” and “should [continue to] break all the rules!”  Other promotional ideas include working through barber shops and hair salons, concerts, contributing to “the target’s emotional and economic well-being” by helping them find jobs, offering a prize screen test with Spike Lee and “get in there and help increase distribution of black films.”

The U.S. Surgeon General’s report issued in 1989  — the same year that RJR created this document — officially established that cigarettes are both addictive and deadly.

Source: Salem Black Initiative Program Brand Team Ideation Session, August 3, 1989 (R.J. Reynolds)

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