Back in late December of 2009, we posed a question from Patrick asking “Is the Persona Really Necessary?” Before hitting publish, Brian, Jerry, and I were a little concerned that the article would draw out hostility towards peoples least favorite manufacturer due to their marketing tactics.
I must say, we were pleasantly surprised by the conversational tone that took place in the comments section and were thoroughly impressed by the opinions expressed by many of the commenters. Since the responses to that article have died down, we thought it would be a good idea to showcase some of the thoughts and opinions expressed.
The Questions that Sparked The Discussion
With all of these new cigar makers making it big lately and the pressure to secure a customer base being as seemingly cut throat as it is, do you think it is necessary to try and sell the persona or lifestye preferred for cigar smokers? I’ve noticed with brands such as Sam Leccia Tatuaje , Room 101, and others there almost seems to be an equal emphasis on lifestyle as there is cigars.With all criticism magazines such as C.A. get for promoting high-end, snobby lifestyles don’t you think that these companies are doing the same thing with the counter culture, extreme living angle?
It is a basic business strategy. It’s great to see companies going for different demographics. The only thing, however, is that it can cause some in-fighting in the industry. As seen with the Altadis USA v. Tatuaje suit: they saw a large chunk of their customer base shift to a younger and “hipper” company in Tatuaje. I don’t think that was the only reason, but it’s definitely part of it.
Sam Leccia brought his own style and some new ideas to what was happening and they took a risk and ity paid off, with Nub and now Cain. They also put a different type of emphasis on strength and power of a cigar without taking away from the purity of blending and such.
Camacho also saw an opportunity to get some new clientele and saw what was working and came up with Room 101 and the whole conspiracy theory stuff. And because Tatuaje had so many followers, it seemed that it was just a blatant rip-off of what some smaller companies were doing.
Now we have companies that at least in advertising and word of mouth appeal to every major and minor demographic out there. From old school purists to younger punk type consumers, looking for something out of the ordinary.
That being said, there is so much crossover that the smoker’s are who profits most by having more and different options. As for the lifestyle thing, cigar smoking has always been about, in one way or another, appearances and lifestyles.
Now there are just more options.
For me, and many others, none of that matters. I, and we, want cigars we like, forget about the lifestyle crap.
I just think it is appealing to poke fun at Cigar Aficionado because they have branded the Be all to End all of cigars.
Alan W Garcia:
I agree with Schedel’s first line: It is strictly a business strategy. For many, a cigar is simply a symbol of status, and as such, in order to follow suit with the pack of that group, they will light up a stogie, or just chew it. As long as they have the look and can viewed as being in that particular pack, they will spend the money for it. Taking into account that the fastest growing demographic section in cigar smoking are the younger 20-30 year old males, many of these will tend to just follow suit with whatever they can use as a “push” to keep them up to par (even if they cannot distinguish between a maduro and a connecticut leaf). As such, if they know the prestige of a certain place or personality, they will buy that specific product.
Case in point, I recently had dinner with a small group of business colleagues, in a place where unfortunately no smoking was allowed. During our conversation, we started talking about cigars. I was mentioning a particular brand which can only be found in Puerto Rico. We talked about many brands and how they compared in flavor and overall change in taste with aging, prices, etc. One particular gentleman (who was visiting from the California region) mentioned that he only smoked cigars from Room 101. I was curious, as I’ve seen it hit the market recently but haven’t had the opportunity to try one. His answer was “I only smoke these, I have for the past 2 years.” I was a little confused, as it has only been out for a few months. But, I indulged in his feedback, which lead eventually to a key comment: “If you smoke anything else, you can’t be possibly have good taste in cigars.”
Maybe it was a matter of opinion, and considering that some younger people are ready to follow suit if it brings them some “status” benefit in that aspect. But, at the end of the day, cigar companies are in the industry for one reason – to make a profit. As such, they’ll use whatever tool or strategy to market their product and put it on the map. Only a rare few do it for the love of it and are successful – quality speaks for itself.
Having said this – the best cigar I’ve ever had was rolled by the grandfather of a good friend of mine, in the the Dominican Republic. It was rolled on a small wood table in his front porch, right outside of “El Cibao” . It had no band, fresh long leaf straight out of the bunch and it was given to me – free. Even “The most interesting man in the world” will never have the chance to smoke a cigar like that.
A good cigar is gonna sell regardless of whatever lifestyle it is attributed to. It may attract people who normally would not either a) smoke a cigar or b) smoke that particular brand, so I am all for it either way. A brother or sister of the leaf is one regardless of the brand they smoke.
I think anyone who looks down upon others because they smoke a brand that has a certain “persona” or marketing attributed to it is missing out on the point that it doesn’t matter what you smoke when it comes to cigars.
I think it is great that some of the smaller boutique cigars have grown their business by using a certain persona to attract cigar smokers. But, the bottom line is that if the cigars sucked, they wouldn’t remain successful for very long. The persona may be the initial attraction, but the quality of the cigar is what will make them successful.
One thing that I have found of some of the brands that do have a certain persona or lifestyle attributed to them is that the guys behind the brand are very accessible and more than willing to engage with the everyday smoker. Pete Johnson, Sam Leccia, Dion Giolito and Matt Booth are examples of this. All have been accessible to me when I had questions and I appreciate it. I can’t say that about some of the bigger brands out there. Also, for me, I can relate better to those guys than I can some of the higher-end companies, but that is just me.
With all that being said, I don’t smoke cigars to show off, I smoke them because I enjoy them and I really don’t give a damn how they are marketed. A good cigar makes the brand, not the other way around.
I agree with a lot of what has been posted already but marketing is marketing, good or bad and it will always be that way. I think it may grab the attention of some people at first but that‘s it. In the long run, the bottom line is, if a cigar is good it will sell itself. If it is crap, it will die off no matter how flashy or how much of an upscale lifestyle they try to portray.
The backlash against CA may well be one rooted in envy. I know that I have to guard against my natural inclination to hold in contempt that which I am unable or unlikely to attain myself.
Renting a private jet to Hawaii so I can wear a $12,000 watch while playing golf and chain-smoking Davidoff cigars is probably not in my future. Therefore, instead of reading CA and enjoying it even vicariously, I scoff.
On the other hand, listening to loud music while getting myself inked up by a truly gifted counter-culture artist is certainly within my daily sphere of ability.
Just something to think about.
If you haven’t had a chance to read the original article entitled “Ask The Readers: Is Persona Really Necessary?”, I would suggesting doing so. In addition to the comments above, there are a variety of other interesting replies on the subject of persona and marketing.
8 thoughts on “The Readers Respond: Is the Persona Really Necessary?”
Nicely composed…although the 20-30 year old thing annoys me a bit. There are plenty of 40+ gentlemen (and ladies) who don’t know dick about cigars and pull the ‘If it’s not a Cuban, I ain’t smoking it’ or other bullshit like that. I think on the whole, the cigar community (beginner, intermediate, and advanced/expert smokers) is fairly uneducated about the craft. There are a ton of people who just smoke what they smoke because that’s all they’ve ever smoked/aren’t willing to expand their palate. Now, I’m not saying I know everything or am even remotely educated compared to quite a few (I am only 21), but I feel like my approach to smoking – finding what I like through trial, error, and trial again – is a fairly sound approach.
Ultimately, it does come down to the ‘what do you like to smoke?’ question, and only the individual can answer that. But, others can most definitely influence how and to what extent one is educated. Persona or not, like was said, a stick will speak for itself – just don’t let that stick be the only one speaking for you.
Persona is strictly a commodity. Companies can advertise their product any way they want; whether it be luxurious lifestyle, extreme living, sex, aesthetically pleasing artwork, or anyway else. How a product is advertised shouldn’t be of concern, only the actual product should be. I mean it’s a free market, if a company wants to waste their money on frivolous advertisements, then so be it. I just think it’s not lucrative to be marketing to such pin-pointed demographics when there’s a whole market out there.
But to be honest, the only cigar-related literature I read consists of: independent review sites like this one, and cigar distributor magazine’s (CI, Mike’s, JR…). So I don’t really see any kinds of high-end advertisements like you’d see in Cigar Aficionado. I just decipher what I buy from either a suggestion from a site like this, a suggestion from a friend, or if I just see a cigar that looks good while I’m browsing a humidor.
Personally, I try to leave that stuff at the door when it comes to cigars. Make a good smoke, I’ll buy it. Make a bad smoke, I won’t. Simple.
At the end of the day, I think these cigar makers are pushing the envelope, which makes everyone else step up their game. If it bring more cigar smokers to the table, then I think it’s a good thing.
On a side note, I’ve been pondering the whole counter/sub-culture movement in cigars brought to us by Pete Johnson and Sam Leccia (among others) for a few years now, and I think I’ve got it figured out. Cigar smoking is still about image to a lot of people, but the image is shifting from one of prestige to one of rebellion. In response to smoking bans across the country, young people are saying “F*K*U” in a big way with the quintessential symbol of smoking, the cigar. The “lifestyle” marketing we’re seeing now is a result of this, not the cause.
In a worst-case-scenario, this trend could feed off itself and lead to another “boom” that results in higher prices and absolute junk passing for cigars. I don’t think that’s going to happen since it would mean a reversal of the quality trends we’ve seen over the last ten years or so.
Then again, blah blah blah . . .
I think marketing a persona is really only influential to new(er) cigar smokers.
Once you get to a certain experience level you realize that cigars are cigars, and you seek out what you enjoy, not what people tell you, you SHOULD enjoy.
Of course a lot of people choose not to take the time to educate themselves on the industry/product. Which is fine, to each his own. But I personally feel they are missing out on the total experience smoking a cigar can provide.
Man, that Schedel guy has got quite a few grammatical errors. haha!
I agree with what most have posted about the persona of a cigar brand, but this will probable only serve to grab a new smoker or bring someone to smoking so that they can perceive to live the lifestyle that the brand invokes.
Most cigar smokers come to realize that it’s a good cigar not a brand that keeps them coming back and eventually if that new smoker stays a smoker he/she will also come to this realization.