One of the cigar industry’s leading publications recently published an article that called into question the marketing methods of certain brands. This article has lit the industry on fire, and both consumers and industry folks are up in arms. Like just about every topic people are passionate about, diving into the core issue reveals more common ground than not. It’s just a difference of ideas on how to approach the solution that’s causing friction. At the end of the day, the core of the debate revolves around the simple question: What does the future of the cigar industry look like? Because of the complexity of this issue, we’ll be breaking this up into a two-part series. This week, we’ll cover marketing in the industry as it stands today. Next week, we’ll discuss the regulations that govern the industry.
2021 Was A Record Year
By all accounts, there has never been a better time to be selling cigars. 2021 was a record year, with some 400 million cigars being imported into the United States. Those numbers could have been even better if not for issues with the supply chain, which is reflective of the state of shipping the world over right now. While I can’t speak from personal experience, based on conversations I’ve had with people in the industry, there are more great cigars being produced than ever before. With established brands being ever present and new and innovative brands pushing the envelope, consumers have more choices than ever before, and competition is at an all-time high.
Cigars are also becoming present in popular culture again. While some athletes have always celebrated with cigars, only recently have they been as visible as Joey Burrow’s LSU championship interview or Tom Brady telling the cigar smoking Matthew Stafford to mix in a water when he was celebrating. Celebrities are even starting to make their own branded cigars, the most recent being the Guy Fieri Knuckle Sandwich.
Attracting New Consumers
Because of regulation, the cigar industry is extremely limited in how it can market to new consumers. The FDA is particularly sensitive on products with marketing that could appeal to children. Running paid advertisements on any social media platform is near impossible, and boosting a cigar retailer’s web presence with paid search results is not allowed either. This limits the paid advertising to a just a handful of industry publications, various blogs, and influencers. These days, you even have to be careful of using certain keywords when doing text message marketing or face being blacklisted by telecommunication companies. This leaves the industry with very few options on how to both attract new customers and communicate with current customers. This issue is compounded by the fact that most cigar customers are aging. Walk into most cigar shops today and you’ll see this for yourself.
How Do We Attract the Next Generation of Cigar Consumers?
The cigar industry is steeped in history and tradition. This is one of the things I love most about it. With a history that goes back to the ancient Mayans, cigars have played a key role and been strongly influential in some of the major events in history. From the Cuban revolution to the civil war in Nicaragua, all have unique ties to cigars. The Davidoff Winston Churchill is a nod to UK Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s fondness for cigars, and how he often relied on his enjoyment of cigars to relieve the stresses of the WWII war effort. While there are a million stories to be told, the industry can also be tired and dusty at times. I mean, how many ashtrays and cutters can we possibly give away? A cigar lounge can be an intimidating place to enter.
Cigars are an acquired taste. I would even venture to say that very few (if any) people really enjoyed the first time they smoked a cigar. However, cigars are about so much more than just their taste. A single cigar represent an hourlong break from the stress of everyday life. Cigars are conversations with your friends, and they represent opportunities to meet new friends. They can mark the end of a long day or be used to celebrate major life achievements. Cigars are handmade works of art that dozens of people put their life work into perfecting, which you can enjoy for around $10 for a premium product. Cigars bring together people from all walks of life and give them a common ground. How can we communicate this and welcome in a modern consumer without poking the regulatory bear?
This is a question I’ve asked of numerous cigar makers. Handicapped by most modern forms of marketing and communicating to a younger generation, the cigar industry faces an uphill challenge. The thirty-year-old demographic increasingly relies on modern marketing platforms to learn about new products, all of which are inaccessible to tobacco companies. How do we communicate cigar history, tradition, and culture when our tongues are tied?
The good news is that the industry is figuring it out. Take some of our best brands at our shop, starting with ADVentura and Drew Estate. These brands are taking two wildly different approaches to building their customer base, but both have a unique story to tell. Boutique brands such as Warped, RoMa Craft, and Blackbird have developed tight-knit and loyal fanbases of consumers by offering new and unique blends to their customers. These unique brands are created by tobaccos that were previously harvested into small quantities to be released by larger brands, and which are now accessible to consumers.
Cigar lounges are finding new concepts to attract customers and build community. Marketing through events (both at the shop and off-site) is becoming more popular than ever. Lounges are no longer dark, smoky rooms but open concepts with patios and music and energy. Communities are even developing online through a variety of platforms. Increasingly, cigar marketing has taken on the added dimension of creating an experience when paired with other activities and products.
How can you help as a customer?
So what can you do as a consumer to keep the flame lit? It’s simple, really. Spread the word! Offer cigars to friends who haven’t tried them before. Next time you’re heading to your local shop, especially if you’re attending an event, bring a friend along. Welcome new faces to your local lounge, strike up a conversation, and make them feel comfortable. If you had a good experience, write a positive review on Google and Yelp. Tag cigar brands and your local shop in your social media posts. All of these little things go much further than you realize and collectively can make a major difference. The industry has been growing because of the passion of you, the customer, and it will continue to grow because of it!
Check back next week for a deeper dive into the regulations that govern both cigar manufacturers and the shops themselves.