Money and education can take care of...

PEOPLE WITH

September 11, 1992

PEOPLE WITH money and education can take care of themselves.

That may be the underlying message in the fact that little hubbub has been made, thus far, of reports that Philip Morris Co. is marketing a new cigarette to homosexual men.

When RJR Nabisco created smokes a couple of years ago aimed at low-income blacks and women, under the brand names "Uptown" and "Dakota," a hue and cry forced the company to drop the strategies.

Philip Morris is introducing Benson & Hedges Special Kings with an ad in a fashion and life style magazine for homosexual men called "Genre," The Wall Street Journal reported recently.

The cigarette maker downplayed the ad, saying it is part of a larger campaign.

It will be interesting to see whether the campaign garners the depth or breadth of criticism that RJR Nabisco received from civil rights and feminist groups for "Uptown" and "Dakota."

The difference in this case is that gays as a group are better-educated and more affluent than the general public, and thus less susceptible to being taken advantage of by slick

marketing.

A Chicago-based research firm called Overlooked Opinions estimates that gays average three more years of education than the general adult population, 15.7 years vs. 12.7 years.

Moreover, the median income in the United States for gays was $42,689 for men and $36,072 for women, higher than the national average, according to an article last April in American Demographics magazine.

In this case -- actually, as is always the case -- money is power.

Philip Morris Co. is no more wrong to court gay consumers than is Virginia Slims to appeal to the general female market or beer brewers to take aim at heterosexual males. Seeking a market niche is part of the game.

The sad irony, of course, is that the product being used to test gays' strength in the marketplace can only do them harm.

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