Marketing chew to Mexican Americans

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This article is part of the Tobacco portal on Sourcewatch funded from 2006 - 2009 by the American Legacy Foundation.


This marketing document prepared for U.S. Tobacco (now known as U.S. Smokeless Tobacco) explores how to market chewing tobacco to Mexican-Americans, a group that typically doesn't use the product.

Focus groups were conducted with Mexican-Americans in Los Angeles, California and San Antonio, Texas in 1983. The subjects had to be "currently employed or students," relatively low-income ("have an annual income of $25,000 per year or less") and be bilingual.

The participants repeatedly and strongly made it clear to the interviewers that chewing tobacco is not part of the Mexican heritage, and is not typically used by Mexican-Americans:

Usage is considered to be almost exclusively among whites, and certainly not among Hispanics. ('Chicanos don't chew!'). The unaided image of the oral tobacco user was not initially positive, and was consistent with neither the Mexican heritage nor the urban/big-city environment. Respondents in San Antonio are much more knowledgeable about the variety of oral tobacco products than their Los Angeles counterparts, although both agreed that it was, '...not a Mexican thing.'


No respondent in either city had an older relative or role model who had ever used snuff
They were also unaware of any sales or usage of the product in Mexico
There is no word in Spanish for 'snuff,' and no common expression for 'chewing tobacco.'

Yet despite the information that chewing tobacco use is almost nonexistent among this ethnic group, the company pressed forward in seeking ways to market the product to Mexican-Americans, saying ads should be geared to young and "non-users" in order to encourage use. It was also recommended that UST use a Mexican spokesperson and Mexican product demonstrators who would gear their sales pitches to getting non-users to try the product:

Use a Mexican model or spokesperson in the advertising. He should be chosen with care. A well-known Mexican might not be believed; he might be perceived as doing it just for the money, whereas an unknown spokesman might [make the] ethnic identification in a more believable way (e.g., a construction worker, auto mechanic, or a man washing his car or playing ball with his friends)...Supplementary advertising should also be rendered in Spanish, since this shows that the brand is making an effort to court the Hispanic consumer. ...The best way to achieve trial is via free samples using Mexican demonstrators...Current television advertising alone is not a strong enough incentive. It will not overcome the negative stereotype or image of a smokeless tobacco user. Moreover, consumers need to be taught what the product is, how to use it and what benefits and enjoyment they can expect if they use it...The demonstrator would be able to talk to them (in whatever language they prefer) about when, where, and how to get the most out of these products... Stay away from the cowboy/redneck image in the supplementary advertising. It does not work for Mexicans. Give more emphasis to the urban, blue-collar male. Supplementary advertising, directed specifically at the Mexican-American market, should be developed.

Document Date: Jan 1983
Author: Author: JRH Marketing Services, Inc. Long Island City, NY
Length: 42 pages
Bates No. UST 2706641-2706681
URL: Document images are no longer available online.

Key portions of the above report can be found here:

Title: [Investigation of the potential impact of smokeless tobacco on the major ethnic group report]
Document Date: 00000000 (undated)
Document Type: report
Bates Number: 2739867-9897
Collection: US Smokeless Tobacco
Pages: 21