Zippo Repositions Marketing Strategy: Lucas Johnson

Lucas Johnson, Associate Vice President of Global Marketing, Zippo Manufacturing Company talks about the brand’s evolution, taking up advertising and marketing in India after a decade, and more.

Word-of-mouth is one of the strongest forms of advertising in India. With thriving sales and a new retail strategy, Zippo has been focusing to expand its customer base in India.

As a part of its strategy, Zippo introduced iconic Indian places and designs to be engraved on its lighters to reach more consumers. The brand’s new positioning reflects its longstanding devotion to great craftsmanship and durability, providing individuals with trust in Zippo goods.

In an exclusive interaction, BW Marketing World spoke to Lucas Johnson, Associate Vice President of Global Marketing, Zippo Manufacturing Company, delving into the brand’s evolution, taking up advertising and marketing in India after a decade, and more.

Edited excerpts:

Zippo was launched in India in 2009, and you re-launched the brand in 2020. How has the journey and evolution of the brand been ever since it stepped into India in 2009?

Zippo embarked on its Indian journey in 2009, marking its debut in the market. Beyond the iconic lighters, we transformed into a versatile lifestyle product, catering to diverse needs from illuminating ceremonial diyas to sparking outdoor adventures.

Challenges and opportunities emerged post-launch, including establishing a foothold in a new market, connecting with Indian consumers, and navigating competition. These challenges were surmounted through strategic partnerships that expanded distribution networks, enhancing market presence.

Our journey in India is focused on our evolution from being a brand known only for our iconic Zippo windproof lighter to being recognised as a multifaceted lifestyle brand, symbolising heritage and adaptability. We transitioned from a functional item to a symbol of quality and innovation, resonating continually with the Indian market.

Zippo’s first-ever brand campaign was launched in 2022 inspite of being in India for more than a decade - what made you wait so long to take up advertising in a market like India? And what was the thought and inspiration behind the 'Spark a New Beginning' campaign?

Prior to Zippo forming a wholly owned subsidiary in India, our product sales and distribution was handled by a third-party retailer. We have been actively working to increase availability of genuine Zippo products, discourage counterfeit sales and enhance our market research. This, coupled with the explosive increase of ecommerce in India are what has really allowed us to understand how to effectively reach our target Indian consumers. 

It was in 2021 we felt we could look at advertising in a structured manner and hence the conceptualisation of the campaign began, and its simultaneous launch in 2022.

As for the brand campaign ‘Spark a New Beginning,’ we wanted to showcase the power within each of us, through the metaphor of burning away insecurities. Our philosophy at Zippo has always been that the consumer sees us as an extension of their personality, taste and style. 

Zippo's top-tier windproof lighter emerges as the tool empowering them to dismantle preconceived notions and stereotypes. The characters in the film are portrayed as resolute in pursuing their ambitions and aspirations, ultimately embracing their genuine selves.

What kind of a target audience has Zippo been able to garner for itself in India? 

We have been focusing on individuals who exude confidence, ambition, and a penchant for dreaming big. These consumers value status, have a keen eye for style, thrive on adventure, embrace a fun-loving spirit, radiate self-assurance, exhibit sociability, and actively seek out exclusive experiences. For them, the brands and products they select serve as a direct expression of their unique personal tastes and style preferences.

While our primary aim is directed towards tier I and the top 20 metro cities, we are also extending our reach through collaborations with wholesalers in major metropolitan areas like Mumbai, Bangalore, and Hyderabad. This strategic move also allows us to extend our presence smaller cities.

As the consumption of ecommerce platforms continues to surge, an advantageous window of opportunity opens up within our market. 

Zippo in India also extended the brand to various product categories. Which categories are these? And which are the products that bring in maximum sales for the brand in India?

In India, Zippo has diversified its brand into accessories like hand warmers, fire starters, fuel, flints, wicks, pouches and inserts. This strategic expansion allows the brand to cater to a wider range of consumer preferences and needs.

Among these various product categories, Zippo's lighters continue to be the primary driver of sales for the brand in India. While the brand has ventured into different categories, the enduring appeal of Zippo lighters remains a cornerstone of its success in the Indian market.

With Zippo’s 90th anniversary celebrated recently, what is the new global brand platform, ‘Live with Confidence’ all about? And how do you plan to extend this brand platform?

Zippo's recent 90th anniversary marked the unveiling of its new global brand platform, 'Live with Confidence.' This platform embodies the essence of Zippo's legacy while embracing the modern aspirations and values of its diverse consumer base. It encapsulates the idea of embracing life's moments with assurance, boldness, and a sense of confidence, which aligns with the spirit of Zippo and its products.

The brand envisions extending this new platform by fostering meaningful connections with its consumers. We aim to leverage various marketing channels, both traditional and digital, to spread the message of 'Live with Confidence' and its associated lifestyle. Zippo's intention is to not only celebrate its remarkable 90-year journey but also to inspire a new generation to live life boldly and confidently, aligning themselves with the enduring legacy of the Zippo brand.

Please share details about Pyrotechnic posters sparking intrigue in the Zippo case. What is the purpose of this campaign?

Our goal with our recent thermochromic ink posters campaign is to ignite curiosity and captivate attention. Through these visually striking posters, Zippo aims to pique interest and generate intrigue among its audience. The use of pyrotechnic imagery not only aligns with the brand's association with flames and fire but also serves as a metaphor for sparking excitement and fascination.

We intend to create a buzz around its products, events, or messages. Ultimately, the pyrotechnic posters campaign seeks to leave a memorable impression and stimulate a desire for deeper engagement with the Zippo brand.

Zippo lighters do not promote smoking, but in India, it is a given that a lighter brand’s underlying purpose is to light cigarettes. How is Zippo setting the tone to change the mindset and build a metaphorical connect through its communication strategy in India?

Our primary goal, with respect to the Indian market, has been to communicate to consumers that Zippo holds a role beyond being just a smoking accessory. The Zippo windproof lighter is a portable source of flame and pocket-sized canvas of personal style. It embodies a lifestyle product that caters to various needs. These lighters serve as excellent gifts due to their versatility. They can ignite birthday cakes, diyas, candles and prove useful during outdoor activities like camping and trekking. Zippo lighters are sought after by collectors all around the world, and Zippo lighters are often handed down as keepsakes from one generation to the next because they are backed by our lifetime guarantee. 

Prior research, both globally and India-centric, has revealed that many Zippo lighter owners possess multiple lighters for diverse occasions -- complementing both formal and casual outfits, serving as mementos of travelled places, reflecting personal interests, or stemming from an appreciation of the brand's history. 

What kind of an advertising and marketing strategy are you looking at adopting in India? 

Zippo aims to leverage a multi-faceted approach that combines both traditional and digital channels to effectively engage its target audience.

In terms of traditional approach, we plan to strengthen our media relations, outreach and collaborations with strategic partners to enhance the brand’s visibility among consumers. Simultaneously, we also recognize the significance of digital platforms and plan to harness the power of social media and engaging content to connect with the audiences at a deeper level.

Digital and social media is booming. Celebrity and influencer marketing is on the rise, significantly. Connected TV is gaining prominence but TV is the medium to reach out to the masses. What media mix are you looking at implementing for the Indian market?

Zippo is strategically considering a diversified media mix to effectively penetrate the Indian market, leveraging the strengths of various platforms and channels. The brand has and will continue to harness the power of social media for targeted campaigns and engaging content to connect with its digitally savvy audience.

Celebrity and influencer marketing, along with connected TV are great options as well for the Indian market and we would love to explore them in the coming years. Our main objective is to ensure that the brand effectively engages both digitally-oriented and mass audiences, maximizing its impact across diverse segments of the Indian market.

Which are the significant markets (geographically) in India for the brand? Which are the new markets in India that the brand is looking at venturing into?

Significant markets geographically for Zippo in India are the tier-I cities and top metropolitan areas. Cities such as Mumbai, Delhi, Bangalore and Chennai are known for their diverse consumer base, higher incomes, and greater exposure to global trends. They have traditionally been strongholds for luxury and lifestyle brands like Zippo.

However, we are also actively exploring opportunities beyond these major cities. Zippo aims to venture into new markets in India, particularly in smaller towns and cities. Locations like Nagpur, Pune, and similar urban clusters are among the new markets where Zippo is seeking to establish a presence. By tapping into these emerging markets, we aim to expand our reach and resonate with a broader audience, offering products to a wider range of consumers across the country.

What kind of a retail expansion plan have you put in place for India (including online, offline, marketplaces, EBOs, franchise outlets, in-store etc.)?

Ecommerce platforms have experienced a significant surge in their customer base. We are of the opinion that forging partnerships with prominent e-commerce platforms like Tata Cliq Luxury, Amazon, and Flipkart would prove advantageous for Zippo.

Furthermore, reinvigorating our ecommerce website,, has been a primary objective for us. Our platform places heightened emphasis on delivering an enhanced consumer experience. Our website stands as a comprehensive one-stop destination where all our products are readily available.

We are not excluding the brick-and-mortar stores from our retail strategy and as we expand and grow, we will focus on non-metro markets as well.  By embracing both online and offline strategies and collaborating with various retail partners, we aim to ensure accessibility, convenience, and an immersive brand experience for its consumers in India.

What kind of trends and innovations are expected to disrupt the Indian market and the category in which Zippo operates?

Firstly, the rapid digital transformation is reshaping consumer behaviour, with an increasing reliance on e-commerce platforms. This shift calls for us to enhance our online presence and user experience, catering to the growing demand for seamless online shopping and tapping into the convenience-seeking mindset of consumers.

Your vision and way forward for brand Zippo in India

The vision for Zippo in India is to establish an enduring legacy that resonates with the diverse and dynamic Indian market. We aim to redefine Zippo beyond its iconic lighter status, positioning it as a lifestyle brand that encapsulates confidence, style, and individuality. Our focus is on fostering genuine connections with Indian consumers, understanding their aspirations, and delivering products that complement their unique lifestyles.

As we move forward, our strategy involves a multi-pronged approach. We will leverage the power of digital platforms and forging partnerships with key ecommerce players to enhance our online presence and engagement. Simultaneously, we recognize the importance of physical retail experiences, thus reinforcing our commitment to brick-and-mortar outlets and partnerships to reach a wider audience.

We are also working towards educating the consumers about how to identify original Zippo products. It is a huge challenge to tackle the issue of counterfeiting and we are trying our best to help consumers understand the components of authentic Zippo lighters. We are aggressively targeting both the makers and sellers of counterfeit products. Zippo has the IP protection.