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Natural American Spirit cigarettes are marketed as ‘made different’: the role of brand positioning and differentiation
  1. Timothy Dewhirst
  1. Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies, Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, Guelph, Ontario, Canada
  1. Correspondence to Professor Timothy Dewhirst, Department of Marketing and Consumer Studies, Gordon S. Lang School of Business and Economics, University of Guelph, Guelph N1G 2W1, Canada; dewhirst{at}

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Produced by the Santa Fe Natural Tobacco Company (SFNTC), Natural American Spirit cigarettes were introduced in 1982. RJ Reynolds acquired SFNTC in 2002 and SFNTC became parent-owned by Reynolds American Incorporated (RAI). Advertising for Natural American Spirit cigarettes has commonly presented the brand as ‘different’ (figure 1). From a marketing strategy standpoint, David Aaker has emphasised the pragmatic importance of differentiation:

If a brand fails to develop or maintain differentiation, consumers have no basis for choosing it over others. The product’s price will then be the determining factor in a decision to purchase. Absent differentiation, the core of any brand and its associated business—a loyal customer base—cannot be created or sustained.1

Figure 1

This Natural American Spirit cigarette ad circulated in the 22–29 October 2018 edition of Sports Illustrated. Ad copy states: ‘We believe in doing things differently. That’s why everything we do is different. From the way our tobacco is grown to the way we craft our blends. Tobacco Ingredients: Tobacco & Water.’

The concept of differentiation is fundamental to positioning, which is ‘the act of designing the company’s offering and image to occupy a distinctive place in the mind of the target market. The goal is to locate the brand in the minds of consumers to maximize the potential benefit to the firm.’2 Strategically, companies identify optimal points of difference—also known as unique selling points or propositions—which are ‘attributes or benefits consumers strongly associate with a brand, positively evaluate and believe that they could not find to the same extent with a competitive brand.’2

According to RAI’s 10-K filings, which are annual reports that comprehensively summarise a company’s financial performance and mandated by the US Securities and Exchange Commission, ‘Santa Fe’s …

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  • Contributors TD was the sole contributor to the writing and analysis of the study.

  • Funding The authors have not declared a specific grant for this research from any funding agency in the public, commercial or not-for-profit sectors.

  • Competing interests TD is an Associate Editor of Tobacco Control with respect to Product Marketing and Promotion. He has also served as an expert witness in tobacco litigation for plaintiff counsel in class action lawsuits—including a case involving Natural American Spirit—as well as for governments whose policies regarding the marketing and promotion of tobacco products were challenged on constitutional grounds.

  • Provenance and peer review Not commissioned; externally peer reviewed.