Disparities in Point-of-Sale Advertising and Retailer Density
Tobacco companies have been disproportionately targeting minority communities for decades. Tobacco companies are reluctant to disclose racially targeted marketing strategies -- however, recent studies on tobacco advertising strongly indicate that they continue to disproportionately advertise their products to minority communities.
Tobacco companies spend more of their advertising and promotional dollars at the point of sale than anywhere else. Point of sale marketing, advertising and promotion strategies are often heavily geared towards minority low-income consumers, and include price discounts, culturally tailored ad content and promotional give aways, and heavy placement at retail locations both indoors and out. Tobacco companies also take advantage of the heightened tobacco retail density in minority communities to leverage their marketing efforts in these markets.
The first big minority advertising push took place from the early 1970’s. During this time, major tobacco companies fought for share of the young urban African American market in what has been coined the “Menthol Wars”. Rival companies noticed Kool’s popularity in the then-niche African American market, and then begain vying for brand loyalty and profit.
One of the more egregious examples of Menthol Wars targeted marketing was by Winston/Salem in 1974. To promote their brand and create excitement within the African American market, Reynolds sponsored a Cadillac sweepstakes for both consumers and retailers of cigarettes. What started as a niche market has, over time, become a highly valued target audience segment for tobacco advertising, as discussed in these Phillip Morris documents about their Black Marketing Task Force.
During the Menthol War era, tobacco companies also began taking into account the physical attributes of stores in low-income minority communities in order to design the physical characteristics of their POS promotional campaigns. For example, in 1984, Phillip Morris released a series of window display ads with suction cups on them so that they could be placed behind bulletproof windows and still be seen by consumers. Additionally, displays, originally designed for larger stores, were re-designed and scaled down to fit better in smaller inner-city convenience stores, part of Phillip Morris's Ethnic Program Development.
As was done during the time of the Menthol Wars, tobacco companies continue to heavily rely on pricing incentives to promote their products. Today, according to the Federal Trade Commission, about seventy-three percent of POS advertising money goes towards price discounts. And while price discounts affect the purchasing behavior of all markets, economic literature shows that African American, specifically young men, and lower-income smokers are particularly price sensitive.
Additionally, POS ads in minority communities are more likely to advertise a cheaper price on cigarettes or provide better buy one get one (BOGO) deals than in more affluent White communities. So while tobacco marketing is heavily regulated in many ways since the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA) , companies still have the ability to adjust product price through tailored promotional offers in order to target minority communities.
In addition to pricing incentives, the content of POS advertisements, that is, what product is being promoted and using what message, is also heavily targeted towards minority markets. POS advertisements most commonly promote mentholated cigarettes, the preferred kind in the African American market. In fact, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 70% of African American smokers consume menthol cigarettes compared to 30% of Whites. A study by Seidenberg found that in “the low-income/minority community […] advertisements were more likely to be larger, promote menthol products, have a lower mean advertised price, and occur within 1000 feet of a school”. In a study by Henriksen conducted in California, it was found that in high school neighborhoods, African Americans were exposed to more targeted tobacco promotions and lower prices for leading brands of menthol cigarettes.
POS ads, specifically for mentholated cigarettes, also use images and language that stem from young urban hip-hop cultures. A KOOL point of sale display from “Kool Mixx” campaign is featured in the image above. Kool has long used the theme of stereotypically African American music to appeal to their audience. In this display, the images used include sound waves, a city skyline, and young African American men DJing at a club. The tagline reads, “Celebrate the Soundtrack to the Streets”, implying that KOOL Filter Kings are the soundtrack to urban life on the streets, something young African American men are assumed to be able to relate to. Another KOOL cigarette advertisement from Ebony magazine is below: it reads "KOOL Play on the House Spades Slam". This ad, featuring a sweepstakes promotion, is also designed to appeal to the young, urban African American market.
In addition to price incentives and targeted ad designs, tobacco retailer density makes minority communities more vulnerable to the amount of targeted ad campaigns in their communities. Minority communities have a higher density of tobacco retail outlets than White communities due in part to the types of store located in these communities and in part to the types of stores that tend to sell cigarettes.
Also, the mean number of tobacco advertisements varies significantly by store type. In a study conducted in Oklahoma County surveying 110 retail outlets, gas stations and local convenience stores have the highest number of advertisements placed both inside and outside, a trend not unique to Oklahoma County. Lower income minority communities generally have more gas stations and convenience stores than other retail outlets. As such, they also have a higher density of tobacco retail outlets per capita as compared to their more affluent White counterparts.
Further, a study by Hyland in Erie, NY found that as neighborhood income decreased tobacco retailer density increased. Another study, by Laws conducted in Boston, also found that the proportion of retail outlets was negatively associated with per capita income.
In addition to having more retail outlets, minority communities are also less likely to have ordinances related outdoor advertisements or tobacco advertising. A third study by John in Oklahoma County found that there were significantly more point-of-sale tobacco advertisements in low-income and minority neighborhoods than in better educated, higher-income, predominantly White neighborhoods. This study also found that there are more outdoor tobacco advertisements in socially disadvantaged areas.
However, based on the statistical data, this disparity could not be attributable to having more gas stations or local convenience stores than privileged areas. Additionally, although there was a positive association between outdoor advertising restrictions and indicators of social privilege, less-privileged neighborhoods with advertising restrictions also had fewer tobacco advertisements. These findings indicate that public health tobacco prevention efforts that target local level policies would be effective at curbing point of sales advertising efforts in minority communities.
Minority communities, specifically African American lower-income communities, are disproportionally targeted by tobacco companies via point of sales advertisements than affluent White communities. Studies routinely indicate that POS, the most commonly used advertising method by tobacco companies, specifically targets and are more present minority communities. As a result, minorities are exposed to substantially more tobacco advertisements per day than Whites and are at increased risk of smoking initiation and sustainment. Strategies such as tailoring ad content, price discounting, and increasing advertisements, encourage impulsive cigarette purchasing and smoking initiation, and reduce the chance of successful quit attempts.
Find more on strategies to limit tobacco industry marketing, advertising and promotions at the point of sale.