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Journal of Business Ethics

, Volume 139, Issue 1, pp 161–181 | Cite as

Exporting an Inherently Harmful Product: The Marketing of Virginia Slims Cigarettes in the United States, Japan, and Korea

  • Timothy Dewhirst
  • Wonkyong B. Lee
  • Geoffrey T. Fong
  • Pamela M. Ling
Article

Abstract

Ethical issues surrounding the marketing and trade of controversial products such as tobacco require a better understanding. Virginia Slims, an exclusively women’s cigarette brand first launched in 1968 in the USA, was introduced during the mid 1980s to major Asian markets, such as Japan and Korea, dominated by male smokers. By reviewing internal corporate documents, made public from litigation, we examine the marketing strategies used by Philip Morris as they entered new markets such as Japan and Korea and consider the extent that the company attempted to appeal to women in markets where comparatively few women were smokers. The case study of Virginia Slims reveals that the classification of “vulnerable” consumers is variable depending on culture, tobacco firms display responsive efforts and strategies when operating within a “mature” market, and cultural values played a role in informing Philip Morris’ strategic decision to embrace an adaptive marketing approach, particularly when entering the Korean market. Finally, moral questions are raised with tobacco being identified as a priority product for export and international trade agreements being used by corporations, governments, or trade partners in efforts to undermine domestic public health policies.

Keywords

Case study Culture Marketing and consumer behavior Public health Target marketing Tobacco Virginia Slims 

Notes

Acknowledgments

This work was supported by a Canadian Institutes of Health Research/Canadian Tobacco Control Research Initiative Idea Grant. The authors would also like to thank Jeff Darling, Judith Mackay, Rick Pollay, and Derek Taylor for their assistance or comments on a previous draft of this research as well as three anonymous reviewers. In particular, Timothy Dewhirst thanks the Canada-U.S. Fulbright Program, as he was a Fulbright Scholar at the University of California, San Francisco during the early stages of this research. Wonkyong B. Lee acknowledges the Dancap Private Equity Faculty Research Award. Geoffrey T. Fong is supported by a Senior Investigator Award from the Ontario Institute of Cancer Research and a Cancer Prevention Scientist Award from the Canadian Cancer Society Research Institute. Pamela M. Ling acknowledges National Cancer Institute Grant No. CA87472. Both Timothy Dewhirst and Geoffrey T. Fong have served as a paid expert witness or consulting expert for governments in countries whose policies are being challenged by parties under trade agreements.

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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2015

Authors and Affiliations

  • Timothy Dewhirst
    • 1
  • Wonkyong B. Lee
    • 2
  • Geoffrey T. Fong
    • 3
  • Pamela M. Ling
    • 4
  1. 1.Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies, College of Business and EconomicsUniversity of GuelphGuelphCanada
  2. 2.Dan Management and Organizational Studies, Faculty of Social SciencesWestern UniversityLondonCanada
  3. 3.Department of PsychologyUniversity of WaterlooWaterlooCanada
  4. 4.Division of General Internal Medicine, Department of MedicineUniversity of CaliforniaSan FranciscoUSA

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