I haven’t eaten Taco Bell in years, but because of their ingenious branding and marketing, I still consider stopping there when I want to make poor food choices. That dang talking Chihuahua they used back in the day probably contributed to a majority of our current digestive issues. It’s because consumers are like guinea pigs to marketers; poke ‘em with this, prod ‘em with that, expose ‘em to those, and watch them react. But that’s how industry works, right? We don’t buy what we want; we buy what companies tell us we want.
The cigar industry is no different. If it were, we would have our premium sticks sold to us in plain, label-less wooden boxes with white paper bands brandishing their names in Times New Roman font. And that sounds horribly boring. We respond positively to cigars that have traditional, yet exotic names…we rush out to buy “Limited Edicións” and seasonal releases before they’re gone…we react differently when we see certain catch phrases or names that include hard-to-acquire tobaccos and certain ingredients. But do those things make our experience better? Are we really getting what they’re selling us? Let’s take a look at one cigar concept that has many of us believing the hype.
When the cigar boom of the 1990’s was in full swing, cigars were known to be on the milder side. While there were brands that were beloved by those that enjoyed them regularly, if smoked today their strength and complexity would be scoffed at. Not that the blends got worse, but because blending, fermenting techniques and advertising have changed with the times. Unfortunately, many that partake in our pastime (especially those that are new to it) think that cigars have to be big and leave one woozy, buzzed and with a “high”…as opposed to relaxed, satisfied and functional. These market shifts had lead many manufacturers to produce cigars so big that they wouldn’t even personally smoke them, and blends that boast “All Ligero” to appeal to those that think strength is where it’s at.
Ligero, which is the “strongest” leaf on the tobacco plant, is a critical ingredient in premium cigars because as the highest priming (position on the plant) it is harvested last. This means that it has more access to sunlight and nutrients and produces more nicotine, making it the most potent section of the plant. When more body (substance, fullness) and strength are needed in a blend, ligero is added. Cigars that are fuller in body and strength are thought to have a higher amount of ligero in them, so the idea of making a cigar with this leaf only is either attractive to those that say they only enjoy strong cigars or less attractive to those that want mild ones.
The truth is that most, if not all cigars, have ligero in them. And those that claim to only contain ligero are poking us with some clever marketing. A cigar composed of all ligero would combust very poorly, if even at all, and would need leafs from other primings, (mainly volado; lowest priming) to be a functional cigar. So while these “strong cigars” may be composed of a majority of this leaf, a 100% ligero cigar is highly unlikely.
Another thing to consider is that all tobacco plants are not created equally in terms of strength, as this quality is also dependent upon the seed varietal and the location or region in which it is grown. The ligero leaf on a Connecticut Shade plant actually grown in Connecticut would not be as strong as a Connecticut Shade plant grown in Ecuador. That same seed grown in Nicaragua or Honduras would also yield a different level of strength. So while the ligero in your cigar may be the strongest leaf from a particular plant, it doesn’t necessarily mean that the tobacco leaf itself is “strong” because the plant itself may be grown to yield milder tobacco.
Like with any marketing, buzzwords are important in creating different feelings and perceptions, so it’s up to the educated premium cigar consumer to research and know what they’re in essence and in actuality getting in that cigar. Labeling and names spark our curiosity to try something, but relying simply on a manufacturer to drive our choices with their words and images will cause us to latch on to products we really don’t enjoy or to pass up those that we might.
All businesses, even the cigar industry, use marketing as a tool to drive profits and to manipulate (not necessarily a bad word) perception. While all of our cigars contain some level of ligero, that shouldn’t be our ultimate deciding factor and they should be enjoyed for what they are, not just what we are told they should be through imagery and advertising.