The industry calculated its cost savings. "How can those results be translated? In dollars - to the bottom line," a cigar association memo noted the next year. "For example: A 30-second TV commercial during the Super Bowl would have cost $400,000. I However, we decided upon multiple exposures through TV news features which cost just $30,000. They reached 40 million viewers, resulting in a cost-effectiveness of 75 cents per thousand viewers - or less than one-quarter the cost of advertising."
Under the Richard Weiner Inc. public relations agency, a force behind the Cabbage Patch dolls phenomenon and authors of a media handbook for the cigar industry, manufacturers also targeted regional and national newspapers.
With the New York Times, marketers employed deception.
"As a cigar smoker, I like to linger after a meal, relaxing and enjoying a fine cigar, appreciating my smoke as I would a special glass of wine. Unfortunately, increasing numbers of cigar smokers, fearful of confrontations with nonsmokers, think twice before lighting up. Or they passively retreat to relax with their cigars alone," wrote Jonathan M. Weisberg in a June 7, 1984, letter to the editor. "This is regrettable."
Weisberg did not identify himself as an employee of the Richard Weiner agency. But the firm did not fail to highlight his letter in a report to its client, the Cigar Association of America.
"Agency wrote and placed a 'Letter to the Editor' entitled 'A Man and His Cigar' by Jonathan M. Weisberg. Letter, extolling the virtues of a postprandial cigar. I Circulation: 963,400."
Asked about the letter, Sharp of the cigar association acknowledged that Weisberg's affiliation with the industry should have been disclosed.
The newspaper would not have run the letter, said Nancy Nielsen, vice president of corporate communications for the New York Times Co., if it had known of Weisberg's connections.
Cigar makers, however, knew how to get their message into the news media. "Associated Press and United Press International released on their wires to the nation's major television and radio stations and newspapers a story agency wrote on 'Good Guys Smoking Cigars on TV,' " said a cigar association memo in 1984.
The industry also targeted those most potentially receptive to its cause - cigar-smoking journalists.
Among several named in industry memos was one from the Fresno Bee in 1987: "Cigar smoking columnist Dennis Pollock gave some cigar smoking tips in his October 9 column. The article announced Cigar Lovers Day and credited the CAA [Cigar Association of America] in its efforts to encourage cigar etiquette."
Pollock, reached for comment, was surprised to learn that he was identified in an industry document. "I have mixed emotions," he said, "when I see what I wrote used for promotional uses."
The industry relied on more traditional promotions as well. In Baltimore, marketers created their own event as part of the opening of the H.L. Mencken House. From May 31 to June 11 in 1984, models hired by the cigar industry fanned out across the city, wearing sashes bearing the slogan "Relax. Enjoy a Cigar." ,, Men dressed as the cigar-chomping journalist of the Evening Sun handed out 15,000 promotional lapel pins, rewarding those wearing them with $5 bills. The Sun covered the event, highlighting the cigar gimmick.
From such promising promotions, cigar makers have attracted what other marketers fantasize about - wealthy customers clamoring for their wares. Consider Jerry Gross, an insurance executive from Malibu, Calif., appealing to an impassive clerk in a dank Miami factory.
"I'm begging you, two bundles, please, please."
The object of his desire is La Gloria Cubana - cigars so popular that the factory limited customer orders. Gross' solution? He travels across country three to four times a year to stock up.
The industry could not have asked for more. "To make it an upper-end type of product, socioeconomically - that was kind of the primary strategy," said a former public relations specialist who worked on the industry campaign.
"PR is one-sided, and we would play down any negatives and attach all the positives to it."
What worked for vineyards worked for cigar makers - an unspoken yet widely understood elite appeal. "Create the 'Cigar Smoking' experience," suggested a 1983 memo, "similar to the 'Wine' experience - the tradition of the grower, the roller of cigars, the boxing, the care of cigars, the smoking of cigars."