Dakota Takes on the Marlboro Woman

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company’s “Virile Female”

In 1990, the R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company chose Houston and Nashville as test markets for a new brand of cigarettes aimed at free-spirited, Marlboro-smoking young women, or “Virile Females” in the words of TRONE, the advertising agency that created the campaign. According to TRONE’s internal marketing plan, Dakota was targeted–on billboards, in full-page newspaper ads, in  convenience store displays featuring life-sized denim-and-leather-clad biker babes, and concert sponsorships–-to 18-24-year old women who go to tractor pulls with their boyfriends and “identify with the bitches in the soap operas.” In Houston, the campaign was met with a satirical counter-advertising campaign by the medical activist group DOC (Doctors Ought to Care), which purchased a full-page satirical ad in the alt-weekly newspaper Houston Public News and distributed hundreds of bumper stickers with the slogan, “Dakota, DaCough, DaCancer, DaCoffin.” The resulting public ridicule of Dakota–-and adverse publicity when Houston’s two daily newspapers refused to publish the same DOC parody ad out of fear of alienating cigarette advertisers–-led RJ Reynolds to drop its plan for a national launch of the brand.