Beyond the brotherhood: Skoal Bandits' role in the evolution of marketing moist smokeless tobacco pouches

Background: Since 2006, " snus " smokeless tobacco has been sold in the U.S.. However, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco (USST) and Swedish Match developed and marketed pouched moist snuff tobacco (MST) since 1973. Methods: Analysis of previously
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  RESEARCH Open Access Beyond the brotherhood: Skoal Bandits ’ role in the evolution of marketing moistsmokeless tobacco pouches Yogi H. Hendlin 1 , Jessica R. Veffer 1 , M. Jane Lewis 2 and Pamela M. Ling 1,3* Abstract Background:  Since 2006,  “ snus ”  smokeless tobacco has been sold in the U.S.. However, U.S. Smokeless Tobacco(USST) and Swedish Match developed and marketed pouched moist snuff tobacco (MST) since 1973. Methods:  Analysis of previously secret tobacco documents, advertisements and trade press. Results:  USST partnered with Swedish Match, forming United Scandia International to develop pouch products aspart of the  “ Lotus Project. ”  Pouched MST was not commonly used, either in Sweden or the U.S. prior to the Lotus Project ’ sinnovation in 1973. The project aimed to transform smokeless tobacco from being perceived as an  “ unsightly habit of oldmen ”  into a relevant, socially acceptable urban activity, targeting 15 – 35 year-old men. While USST  ’ s initial pouched product “ Good Luck, ”  never gained mainstream traction, Skoal Bandits captured significant market share after its 1983 introduction.Internal market research found that smokers generally used Skoal Bandits in smokefree environments, yet continued tosmoke cigarettes in other contexts. Over time, pouch products increasingly featured increased flavor, size, nicotine strengthand user imagery variation. Conclusions:  Marlboro and Camel Snus advertising mirrors historical advertising for Skoal Bandits, designed to recruit newusers and smokers subjected to smokefree places. Despite serious efforts, pouched MST marketing has been unable todispel its association with traditional smokeless tobacco stereotypes as macho and rural. Public education efforts todiscourage new users and dual use of MST and cigarettes should emphasize that  “ new ”  pouch products are simplyrepackaging  “ old ”  smokeless tobacco. Keywords:  Moist snuff tobacco, Tobacco industry marketing, Product innovation, Changing demographics, Redefiningmasculinity Background Smokeless tobacco pouch products (such as Skoal Banditsor Grizzly Pouches) and snus are subcategories of trad-itional moist snuff (MST): shredded, flavored, chemically-treated, fermented tobacco, normally sold in a round can.Smokeless tobacco pouch product sales more than dou-bled in market share in the US between 2005 and 2014,accounting for 19% of total moist snuff (MST) sales in2014 [1]. The increase in  “ pouched ”  forms of smokelesstobacco use in the last decade reflects a general diversifi-cation of smokeless products, aiming to appeal to abroader audience than the traditional rural, white, andlower-socioeconomic male consumer [2 – 6], which USSTreferred to informally as the  “ Brotherhood ”  [7].Tobacco companies have put significant resources intomarketing and developing smokeless pouched tobaccoproducts [8 – 13]. MST manufacturers have introducedover 10 new MST pouch products since 2006 (Table 1),and during that time at least four major tobacco com-panies introduced pouched snus products to testmarkets nationwide [10, 11, 14]. Domestic spending on advertising MST reached $345.4 million in 2012 [15], a277% increase since 1998 [16]. U.S. Smokeless Tobacco(USST) President Daniel Butler pointed out during a * Correspondence: 1 Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education, University of CaliforniaSan Francisco, San Francisco, USA 3 Department of Medicine, Division of General Internal Medicine, University of California San Francisco, Box 1390, 530 Parnassus Avenue, Suite 366, SanFrancisco, CA 94143-1390, USAFull list of author information is available at the end of the article © The Author(s). 2017  Open Access  This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0International License (, which permits unrestricted use, distribution, andreproduction in any medium, provided you give appropriate credit to the srcinal author(s) and the source, provide a link tothe Creative Commons license, and indicate if changes were made. The Creative Commons Public Domain Dedication waiver( ) applies to the data made available in this article, unless otherwise stated. Hendlin  et al. Tobacco Induced Diseases  (2017) 15:46 DOI 10.1186/s12971-017-0150-y  2007 earnings report call, that  “  very disproportionately,while pouches are about 5.6% of [the MST] category  volume, they  ’  ve a much higher share among new-to-category consumers ”  [17]. Since USST ’ s acquisition by Altria in 2008, multiple portion-pouch derivative prod-ucts have been developed, including Skoal X-tra, SkoalSnus, Copenhagen Pouches, and Copenhagen Snus [18].Previous research has emphasized the changingsmokeless tobacco market with the introduction of Swedish-styled snus, [10] exposed USST ’ s  “ graduation ” strategy to lead new users from lower to higher nicotine-delivery products, [13] and examined tobacco industry interest in smokeless tobacco within the European context[19]. This article examines tobacco industry interest in thedevelopment of pouched MST products, and the rolethese pouched products play in increasing the social ac-ceptability of smokeless tobacco among different groups.To better understand the srcinal rationale for market-ing pouched tobacco products and the factors drivingtheir proliferation, we reviewed previously secret tobaccoindustry documents related to USST ’ s short-, mid-, andlong-term planning and marketing strategies for SkoalBandits and other pouched smokeless tobacco products.Our basic research questions included:  “ What factorswere internally regarded as important in the develop-ment and release of Skoal Bandits and other smokelesspouch products? ”  and  “ What marketing strategies wereemployed during the introduction of pouch products,how did these strategies change over time, and were they successful? ” Methods We searched previously secret tobacco industry documentarchives from the University of California, San FranciscoTruth (formerly Legacy) Tobacco Documents Library (, betweenJanuary 2010 and October 2010, updating searches inNovember and December 2015. Initial search termsincluded:  “ snus, ” “ Skoal Bandits, ” “ consumer research, ”“ product research, ” “ strategic plan, ” “ roll out, ”  and “ marketing. ”  Initial searches produced hundreds of doc-uments relevant to either Skoal Bandits or marketingsmokeless tobacco pouch products. These searcheswere narrowed using more specific keywords suggestedby an initial review of the first documents retrieved(e.g.  “ Bandits Task Force, ” “ ethnic research, ” “ LotusProject, ” “ Good Luck, ” “ radar studies, ” “ college market-ing ” ), followed by   “ snowball ”  searches using standardtechniques [20]. The documents were reviewed and or-ganized chronologically and by topic area, and summar-ies were written and reviewed by multiple authors.Documents were categorized using names, locations,project titles (e.g., Lotus Project), brand names, datesand Bates (reference) numbers. Outstanding questionwere resolved by additional searches, or via corroborat-ing evidence from external sources, such as advertisingarchives like Trinkets and Trash, general internetsearches, company annual reports, investors ’  webcastsand trade press including Tobacco Reporter (1971 – 2015), Convenience Store News (2004 – 2015), andSmokeshop Magazine (2003 – 2015). Analysis was based Table 1  Development and proliferation of pouched MST products Pouched product brand Parent company Moist/Dry Flavors Years activeGood Luck Sak-Pak USST Moist Mint 1973 – 1983Skoal Bandits USST Moist Straight, Mint, Wintergreen 1983-Renegades Pinkerton Moist Mint, Wintergreen 1985-Skoal Flavor Packs USST Moist Mint, Cinnamon 1993 – 1999Revel USST Moist Mint, Wintergreen, Cinnamon 2001 – 2006Skoal Pouches (previously “ Flavorflow Pouches, ” “ X-tra ” )USST Moist Rich, Crisp, Wintergreen, Mint 2008-Skoal Dry USST Dry Menthol, Regular, Cinnamon 2006 – 2008Skoal Snus (replaced Skoal Dry) USST/Altria Dry Mint, Smooth Mint 2011-Grizzly Pouches Conwood /RAI Moist Snuff, Straight, Mint, Wintergreen,Dark Wintergreen2008-Copenhagen Pouches USST/Altria Moist Original, Wintergreen 2001-Copenhagen Snus USST/Altria Dry Natural, Mint, Wintergreen Test-marketed starting 2014Marlboro Taboka Altria Dry Original, Green Test-marketed 2006 – 2008Marlboro Snus Altria Dry Rich, Mild, Peppermint, Spice 2007 – 2013 (relaunched in 2010)Camel Snus RAI Dry Frost, Spice, Original, Robust,Winterchill2006-General Swedish Match Dry Original, White More heavily in the US after 2006Catch Dry Swedish Match Dry Eucalyptus, Licorice, Vanilla, Coffee More heavily in the US after 2006 Hendlin  et al. Tobacco Induced Diseases  (2017) 15:46 Page 2 of 11  on a final collection of 217 tobacco documents, 11USST annual reports (1997 to 2007), 4 Altria quarterly reports (2008 – 2015), and 31 articles from tobacco tradepress published between 1974 and 2015. Results Origins of pouch products: The good luck Sak-Pak  The first test-marketed pouched product in the U.S., the “ Good Luck Sak-Pak ”  grew out of the Lotus Project, a col-laboration between USSTand the Swedish Tobacco Com-pany (now Swedish Match AB) starting in 1970 to developa pouched smokeless product for Europe [21, 22]. The two companies created a joint subsidiary, United ScandiaInternational (USI), with the goal of creating a pouchedMST product that could be successful in the U.S. andinternationally. USST ’ s executives expressed interest innew smokeless tobacco products that would counteractthe socially unacceptable aspects of smokeless tobacco,such as the sensation of floating tobacco strands in one ’ smouth, the messiness of spitting, and the impression thatsmokeless products were traditionally confined to ruraland blue-collar consumers [23, 24]. USST ’ s Senior VicePresident Stanley Beetham believed this promisingproduct would spark a  “ new business, ”  [25] broader thanthe traditional MST one (Fig. 1).The primary difference between pouched and traditionalMST was seen as its main advantage: encapsulatingtobacco shreds in a pouch made dipping kinesthetically easier and appear cleaner. Containing MST in tea bag-likesachets overcame what USST ’ s smoker focus groups iden-tified as the top barriers deterring them from continuingtraditional MST use after receiving free samples: (1) themessiness of   “ float ”  (strands of tobacco in the mouth), (2)the  “ lipburn ”  from tobacco sitting directly on the gum andlip, and (3) user anxiety over ascertaining the optimal  “ sizeof pinch ”  [22]. Fig. 1  Internal USST document comparing the Benefits and Branding of   “ Bandits ”  Pouched MST over Traditional MST [24] Hendlin  et al. Tobacco Induced Diseases  (2017) 15:46 Page 3 of 11  When tested by moist snuff users, the portion packwas described as  “ hygienic, practical, easy to handle,clean, more discreet, does not flow  — lies still and goodin mouth ”  [24, 26]. USST Director of Marketing T.D. Pickett outlined different potential audiences: (1) preex-isting snuff consumers, who would be attracted by theadvantages of the portion pack (e.g., no loose tobaccofloating in the mouth, more hygienic, convenient); (2)male smokers who would be motivated by the relatively cheaper price, notions that smokeless tobacco washealthier and  “ a way to avoid tar and carbon monoxide, ” and accessible in situations prohibiting smoking; and (3)new   “ consumers not yet using tobacco products ”  (Fig. 2)[26]. This last group, consisting of youth and youngadults, would be marketed to similarly to as the smokers,placing additional emphasis on psychological factors (peerpressure, group belongingness, popularity) [26].USST test-marketed the Good Luck Sak-Pak between1973 and 1983 as a key component to  “ change the make-up of its user base ”  [27]. USST ’ s executive officersintended to  “ reduce the average age of the [MST] user tothe 30 to 40 year old age group from the 45 and over agegroup ”  and  “ increase usage by white collar workers, ”  a1974 Furman Selz consulting firm report outlined [28, 29]. USST executives positioned  “ smokeless tobacco in aportion pack ”  to immediately appeal to target groups of  “ new users, mainly cigarette smokers, age group 15-35, ” [30] while simultaneously introducing the product as “ upscale ”  [31]. While blue collar workers often usedsmokeless tobacco in work environments where smokingwas considered dangerous (e.g., factories) and in outsidelocations where spitting was not stigmatized (e.g., con-struction sites), such conducive opportunities to useMST did not extend to white collar workers inhabitingoffices and cubicles [32]. The Good Luck Sak-Pak wasintended to be an  “ entirely new product aimed at new consumers, ”  which could transform the public ima-ge — and social acceptability  — of smokeless tobacco [30].When Good Luck Sak-Pak test-marketing revealedthat  “ over 10% of the people trying it [were] non-smokers ”— a much higher recruitment rate for never-smokers than regular snuff  — USST executives graspedpouched MST ’ s potential to expand the smokelessmarket [28]. Marketing in the 1970s, USST distributedfree samples to first time users, instructing seasonedcompany representatives (reps) to walk novices throughthe mechanics of placing the pouch between the upperlip and gum, the length of time the pouch should stay before removal, the  “ issue of salivation, ”  and above all,reps were to encourage users not to give up should theirfirst experience(s) be less than pleasant [33].Selling the  idea  of pouched smokeless as a novel cat-egory became as important as selling the product itself [25, 34]. USST Division Manager R.R. Marconi ’ s 1973memo to R.  L. Rossi , Director of Sales, noted that thesuccess of the Lotus Project depended on  “ education ” programs. The challenge was how to  “ educate ”  the pub-lic about pouches ’  distinction to steer the image of smokeless tobacco away from stereotypes of   “ an old mansitting in a rocking chair trying to hit a cuspidor ten feetaway  ”  [26, 34]. Along with Good Luck, a sweet flavored low nicotinenon-pouched MST product called  “ Happy Days ”  alsoemerged from the Lotus Project. These products formedUSST ’ s  “ Starter Product ”  category, regarded as a  “ transi-ent   market segment ”  as users would soon graduate tohigher nicotine products upon habituation [35]. Bothproducts were conceived as stepping stones to USST ’ s Fig. 2  USST  ’ s Short-, Medium-, and Long-term Strategies to market smokeless tobacco pouches [43] Hendlin  et al. Tobacco Induced Diseases  (2017) 15:46 Page 4 of 11  more established and higher nicotine Skoal andCopenhagen; but due to Good Luck and Happy Days ’  in-sufficient nicotine delivery and hippy imagery, thesestarter products were soon displaced by Skoal Bandits asthe flagship starter product [11, 23, 35 – 38]. The Skoal bandits brand extension USST sold Good Luck in limited test markets until it wasdiscontinued and replaced by the launch of Skoal Banditsin 1983 (Good Luck continued to be sold internationally until 1990) [39]. Linking the easy-initiation pouched prod-uct with the longstanding Skoal brand — second in brandrecognition only to Marlboro among all U.S. tobaccobrands at the time [40] — overcame the obscurity andperception of the unfortunately-named Good LuckSak-Pak as potentially a  “ sissy product, ”  a perceptionthat would follow pouched MST for decades throughits many iterations [35, 36]. USST essentially took Good Luck and rebranded it as Skoal Bandits accord-ing to the more masculine, nationally-distributed, andbroadly recognized Skoal brand name.The name  “ Bandits ”  given to the rebranded pouchedMST product coincided with USST ’ s eponymous spon-sored race car, the  “ Skoal Bandit; ”  the NASCAR racerstrategically debuted a year before the pouched productlaunch, replete with branded racing gear bearing thesame logo as would grace the product [41, 42]. By  November 1983, USST had a 90 % share of the moistsmokeless tobacco market, and Bandits built on Skoal ’ ssuccess through a combination of promotional strat-egies which included auto racing, rodeo and skiingevents [43, 44]. By May 1984 an  Advertising Age  survey found that due to USST ’ s unprecedented marketingcampaign, Skoal Bandits (separate from Skoal) already was the eighth most recognized tobacco brand overall, lessthan a year after its roll-out [40].Part of USST ’ s impetus for developing Skoal Banditswas in response to competition in the starter MST cat-egory by other tobacco companies. In 1979 ConwoodCo. (now RJ Reynolds ’  American Snuff Company) intro-duced Hawken, a sweet tasting, manageable  “ easy-bal-ling ”  (bolus-forming) cherry MST brand popular with youth [45]. Conwood ’ s strategy was to initiate starterswith Hawken and then enroll them into its higher-nicotine Kodiak brand, [45] potentially disruptingUSST ’ s graduation funnel moving Good Luck/Banditsinitiators to its stronger unpouched Skoal and Copenhagenbrands. To compete, Bandits ’  1983 public launch be-came USST ’ s biggest advertising campaign expend-iture to date [45, 46]. To support marketing for this line extension of itsmost popular Skoal brand, USST created the SkoalBandits Task Force, comprised of high-ranking company executives. The Task Force planned to focus MSTmarketing for the first time on a broader, mainstreamtarget audience [47, 48]. While Skoal Bandits was test- marketed in eight Southeastern cities in 1982, [49] it wasofficially launched as a national product with a pressconference in New York City in August of 1983, with anunprecedented $2 million advertising campaign for theNew York City market alone [50]. Ex-Dallas Cowboy Walt Garrison, a Skoal paid spokesman, explained,  “ If  you can sell New Yorkers on snuff, it ’ s a piece of cakeeverywhere else ”  [51]. USST ’ s investment in advertisingwas expected to yield high returns: pouched productsalso increased profit margins, as Bandits sold for thesame price as regular Skoal or Copenhagen MST butonly contained one-fourth as much actual tobacco in thecan [52]. During the 1980 ’ s, Bandits was USST ’ s highestgross profit margin product [52].The Skoal Bandits pouch products aimed to recruit young never-users of tobacco as well as appeal tosmokers interested in quitting [48]. The Bandits TaskForce discussed market segmentation for the first timein a 1983 meeting, and identified smokers as the largestcluster of Bandits consumers in the short term [44].USST ’ s medium and long-term strategies for Bandits in-cluded a wide variety of new users (Fig. 2) [44]. Short term goal: Appeal to smokers Advertisements framed pouched MST as sophisticated,easy-to-use, and socially acceptable [48, 53 – 55]. USSTCEO Bantle told reporters as early as 1983,  “ We see ourproduct concept taking advantage of the rising tide of dissatisfaction among smokers with the social inconve-niences of cigarettes ”  [35]. The earliest advertisementsfor Skoal Bandits emphasized use as an alternative tosmoking, particularly in smokefree environments. Theseads suggested substituting Bandits for cigarettes, apply-ing the slogan,  “ take a pouch instead of a puff  ” ; thoughthis slogan was discontinued in May 1984 after USSTpaid $25,000 in legal costs to settle New York StateAttorney General Robert Abrams ’  suit claiming thatUSST ’ s advertising copy implied Bandits constituted asafe alternative to cigarette smoking [56 – 58].USST ’ s internal market research showed Bandits ’ high acceptance among smokers, as both a cigarettesubstitute and for dual intermittent use along withcigarettes. Shortly after Bandits ’  introduction, USSTconducted a survey of 223 self-identified smokerswho had tried Skoal Bandits, including a mix of smokeless users and non-tobacco users. Of thesmokers, 53.9% said they would completely substituteBandits instead of smoking cigarettes, 42.6% woulduse Bandits in addition to smoking cigarettes, andonly 3.6% would not use Bandits again [59]. A 1984National Survey of Moist Snuff Users conducted forUSST found that  “ Skoal Bandits was more likely than Hendlin  et al. Tobacco Induced Diseases  (2017) 15:46 Page 5 of 11
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