Case Detail

Case Summary

Uptown Cigarette

Case Number: 5-206-254, Year Published: 2006, Revision Date: June 10, 2014

HBS Number: KEL221

Request PreviewBuy

Authors: Robbin Derry; Sachin Waikar

Key Concepts

Target Marketing, Targeting, Health Advocacy, Vulnerable Populations, Social Activism, Product Launch, Nonmarket Strategy, Ethics, Social Responsibility


To recapture lost market share, tobacco giant R. J. Reynolds (RJR) developed Uptown, the first cigarette brand created and targeted specifically at a minority group—in this case, African-Americans. RJR planned to launch a six-month test market in Philadelphia in February 1990, which coincided with national Black History Month. The launch generated grassroots opposition from the black community in Philadelphia, which became intent on ensuring there was "No Uptown in our town or any town."

This case may also be used in conjunction with the R. J. Reynolds Dakota case (#5-306-500), which focuses on another problematic RJR product launch one month after Uptown's.

Learning Objectives

After analyzing the case, students should be able to:

  • Identify some of the complex issues surrounding targeting specific populations
  • Recognize the importance of understanding cultural context
  • Recognize the limits of profit-based decision-making

Number of Pages: 10

Extended Case Information

Teaching Areas: Marketing, Strategy

Teaching Note Available: Yes

Geographic: Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States

Industry: Tobacco

Organization Name: R. J. Reynolds

Organization Department: Public Relations

Organization Size: Large

Year of Case: 1990