Virginia Slims was introduced on July 22, 1968, by Philip Morris, and marketed as a female-oriented spinoff to their Benson and Hedges brand. The blends, flavorings, color scheme, and overall marketing concepts closely followed the Benson and Hedges model. Early packs (1968-1978) read “Benson and Hedges Park Avenue New York”, near the bottom.The first test market was San Francisco, California. The test was originally scheduled for six months, but was cut short after six weeks due to the success of the introduction – a nearly 3% market penetration.
Distribution and marketing was implemented nationwide, and by September 30, 1968, the entire U.S. was covered.
In 1976, a 120-mm full-flavor packing was test-marketed in Fresno, California. Designed to compete with RJ Reynolds ‘More’ brand, the test ultimately failed and this entry was withdrawn.
In 1978, Virginia Slims Lights were introduced, with good success. Although early marketing concepts included soft pack, Philip Morris decided to use a box-pack design only.
Throughout the early 80′s, growth and market penetration was significant, drawing the attention of competitors who introduced competing brands (including American Tobacco Company’s Misty and Brown and Williamson’s Capri brands).
In 1984, Virginia Slims Ovals were test marketed, but were unsuccessful and withdrawn. Ovals were light, and had an oval-shaped cross section.
In 1985, Virginia Slims Luxury Light 120s were introduced – a 120 mm length packing again intended to compete with RJ Reynolds ‘More’ brand, as well as other 120s on the market. The introduction was successful. This packing has since become a mainstay of the smoking glamour community. It is arguable as to whether VS120s are truly ‘light’, since their rating numbers compare more closely to full-flavor.
In 1987, Ultra-Light 100s were introduced, in keeping with changing consumer tastes, other competitive entries, and the Benson and Hedges model. Marginally successful, this packing remains on the market today.
In 1990, Ultra-Light SuperSlim 100s were introduced, in response to ultra-thin (21mm circumference) competition and consumer demand for a ‘low-smoke’ product entry. These were also marginally successful, and remain on the market.
In 1993, a 10-Pack version of Light 100s were introduced, with 10 cigarettes per pack, costing approximately half the price of a 20-pack. This entry had limited success and came under attack from critics. It was ultimately withdrawn.
In 1994, Virginia Slims Kings (85mm length) were designed as a discount entry and possibly to compete with other king-size entries such as RJ Reynolds’ Camel cigarette brand. It is not clear whether Kings were ever test marketed, but they were never introduced.
In 2003, a box-pack was introduced for full-flavor 100s, in response to consumer demand.
In 2004, Ultra-Light 120s were introduced with marginal success. It is likely that this packing will continue to be supported.
In 2008, Virginia Slims Superslims introduced a smaller size “Purse Pack.”
All packings were simultaneously introduced in both Menthol and Non-menthol (e.g., Regular or Filter) varieties. Menthol usually represents 45%-55% of the total sales of a particular packing.
In all, there have been 11 packings introduced or test marketed in the US, of which 7 are still on the market. There are other varieties marketed in the Asian-Pacific region, Russia, and South Africa. Virginia Slims has never had a significant European or South American presence.
From inception, Virginia Slims have been designed and marketed as a female-oriented brand, generally targeted towards a younger demographic (18-35 year olds). While various themes have emerged in the marketing campaigns over the years, the basic threads have been independence, liberation, slimness, attractiveness, glamour, style, taste, and a contrast to men’s cigarettes.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the themes of feminism and women’s liberation, with the slogan “You’ve Come A Long Way, Baby” were often used in the ads, and often featured anecdotes about women in the early 20th century who were punished for being caught smoking, usually by their husbands or other men, as compared to the time of the ads when more women had equal rights, usually comparing smoking to things like the right to vote. Television and print ads often featured well-known models and designer fashions. Print ads were generally placed in women’s magazines, and formed the mainstay of the marketing campaign, supplemented with billboards and point-of-purchase displays. From 1969 until 1971, television advertising was an important component.
Virginia Slims also sponsored the Women’s Tennis Association Tour. This sponsorship is sometimes credited for the growth and success of women’s tennis during the 70′s and early 80′s.
Several other, less important, marketing vehicles were employed, such as the Virginia Slims Book of Days (a day timer/calendar book), fashion shows, and an extensive line of products, apparel, and accessories.
The Leo Burnett advertising agency handled the Virginia Slims account throughout most of the product lifetime.
From its inception until 1978, Virginia Slims saw a steady increase in market share to 1.75% (3.9% of all female smokers). With the introduction of Lights in 1978, the market share increased to 2.5%. Other packings, including 120s, Ultra Lights, and Superslims helped push the market share to a peak of 3.1% (nearly 7% of female smokers) in 1989. With increased competition from other brands, notably Capri and Misty, the brand lost ground but stabilized at around 2.4% though 2003. Since then, it has lost about .1% per year, and was 2.0% in 2007. This slow but steady decline is expected to continue, since the brand is no longer heavily promoted. Despite this, brand loyalty is well above average, and is still one of the highest in the industry.