CAMPAIGNS: Zino Platinum's PR effort strikes gold with cigar experts

PR Team: Davidoff (Geneva, Switzerland), and PASS Ventures (New York) Campaign: Zino Platinum Crown Series launch Time Frame: November 2002 - ongoing Budget: Over $150,000

PR Team: Davidoff (Geneva, Switzerland), and PASS Ventures (New York) Campaign: Zino Platinum Crown Series launch Time Frame: November 2002 - ongoing Budget: Over $150,000

Three years ago, Peter Arnell and Steve Stoute of PASS Ventures looked at the cigar market and felt it needed a change. Both the chairman of The Arnell Group and the former EVP of Interscope Records, respectively, are avid cigar smokers, and they saw a gap in the market for a trendy cigar with a hip, fresh appeal. The pair wanted to overhaul the traditional image of the cigar aficionado, and release a stylish cigar for a contemporary smoker. "When people think of smoking cigars, they think of a four-paneled room that's dark and stuffy," says Stoute. "We knew that there are a lot of young, successful people who didn't smoke cigars in that environment, and wanted to be communicated to differently." While PASS was confident that the idea was marketable, they knew that they needed a prestigious brand behind them to ensure the cigar was of the highest quality. PASS developed a partnership with Davidoff, the luxury-goods maker from Geneva, and together they developed the Zino Platinum Crown Series, one of the most expensive cigar brands ever released. With three to a striking silver matchbox, these stylish stogies sell for as much as $39 each. PASS knew that placing such a hefty price on the Zino Platinum was going to raise some eyebrows, but Arnell and Stoute were confident that the combination of Davidoff's prestige and PASS' style would create a hip, flavorful smoking experience that consumers would embrace. Strategy The idea was for the Zino Platinum to represent a lifestyle, as well as a tasteful smoke. The aesthetics and marketing of the product would have to be emphasized above all. In other words, they sought to sell the Platinum experience. "We wanted the whole feeling to start with the box," says Stoute. "The box is the invitation to the experience, and I think our box provides a great invitation to where we want to take you: away from the whole stereotypical lifestyle surrounded by cigars." Tactics The Zino Platinum Series was launched in style at the Bellagio Hotel in Las Vegas, with Naomi Campbell as the host. The crowd at the party reflected the hip, affluent target demographic, with celebrities such as Wesley Snipes, Stephen Dorff, and the Wayans brothers in attendance. The Arnell Group followed the kickoff by setting up cigar bars at prestigious events such as P. Diddy's MTV after-party at Cipriani Restaurant and GQ's Man of the Year Awards at the Hammerstein Ballroom. As part of the product-placement campaign, Zino Platinums have appeared in music videos by Jay Z, Snoop Dogg, and Lil' Kim. Results The Zino Platinums have gotten national media attention, and the hefty price tag hasn't seemed to affect consumer response. Manhattan's Davidoff cigar shop has sold more than $50,000 worth of them. Reviews have been published in Cigar Aficionado, Cigar Insider, and the New York Daily News. The Chubby Especial-size Zino Platinum scored an impressive 90 (out of 100) in the March 2003 issue of Cigar Aficionado. "This shows that the real cigar smokers who taste this stuff are saying that not only is this thing packaged right and cool, but that it's actually really good," says Stoute. "That's the proudest moment. To go above the marketing - and all the flash and the design - to have the true cigar smoker say, 'You know what? This is an honest smoke.'" The same issue of Cigar Aficionado ran an article called "Boom again?" which speculated that the cigar industry is again on the rise. It used the successes of the Zino Platinum and its price as at least one indication. Future The Zino Platinum campaign will carry on indefinitely, and more products and lifestyle accessories will be added to the line along the way. While no time limit has been set for advertising and marketing, PASS believes that the Platinum series will begin generating its own publicity. The goal for 2003 is to expand the Zino demographic to secure the sophisticated smoker, as well as the stylish. "We're going to keep working on getting the true aficionado to come to our niche market," says Stoute.

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