INHALING (COUGH*COUGH) AN EXPERIENCE

It’s been about a month since a lounge called Marshall McGearty opened up in the trendy Bucktown area of Chicago, and it’s still getting press. The reason, primarily, is that this lounge is the brainchild of tobacco powerhouse RJ Reynolds. It is, for all intents and purposes, an experiential campaign for cigarettes — and this is giving it a lot of attention.

The Marshall McGearty store was a developed on a napkin by Larry McGearty, a CD at RJR ad company Gyro Worldwide, and RJR honcho Jerry Marshall. It is a plush smoking lounge that serves booze and munchies. But the focus of the place is to sell exotic blends of high-end tobacco, and charge people for the experience.

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It is the Starbucks of cigarettes, and although it is for now only in Chicago, I don’t see why RJR wouldn’t open up more lounges in the future.

So now I’m torn: it’s a damn good idea…but it’s a good idea on how to market cigarettes. I’m an ex-smoker, and know how addictive ciggies can be. Worse than herion (not that I’m a heroin user) and easier to get than beer. But since tobacco companies are often prohibitted from advertising in print, radio or TV, going the experiential route is an incredibly astute move.

And as luck would have it, the opening of the lounge coincided with the start of a public smoking ban in Chicago, landing the lounge in regional papers and the New York Times. Classified as a retail tobacco store, the lounge is exempt from the smoking ban.

Good move. Free press and legions of exiled smokers. So when is the local crack dealer going to set up a plush den for his customers?

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