Marketing to powerlessness and social guilt

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.

This 1990 marketing report shows that R.J. Reynolds (RJR) considered smokers' "social guilt" and "personal concern" about health to be "mindset opportunities" that could be leveraged into increased cigarette sales.

Seeking "positioning opportunities" for its cigarette brands, RJR concluded that "Social guilt will be the largest and fastest growing mindset opportunity of the 90's," and that "no brands are currently meeting social guilt wants."

The report also discusses marketing to "downscale" African Americans, saying,

In addition to moving downscale, the other trends significantly affecting the mindset wants of the contemporary black identity group include:

  • No economic progress among smoker group.
  • Continued isolation as a group physically and culturally.
  • This has led to a more homogenous group who tend to choose a "black brand."
  • 95% of black younger adult smokers now choose menthol, and Newport has a 73 share-of-smoker among this group.

RJR discusses how to market to the feelings of powerlessness experienced by black and white, male and female blue-collar working class people, as well as how to leverage these groups' perceptions of a bleak future into increased cigarette sales:

The [advertising] response to powerlessness among white smokers is a mindset of 'irreverence/a less serious approach to life.' This attitude is an escape from the stressful, hardworking boring rut of the blue collar/working class establishment that they know they will be a part of in the future ... "


"...The response to powerlessness among black smokers is a 'cut above/status.' This is also an escape which separates them from the bleak economic future they perceive."

This document provides an example of how cigarette companies exploit the negative social feelings and perceptions of the poorer segments of society, and how companies use psychology to market dangerous products.[1]

SourceWatch resources

External resources


  1. R.J. Reynolds Positioning Opportunities - Methodology Report. 19990. 41 pp. Bates No. 514202983/3023