Cigar bands have long been very big on elegance but short on information. The traditional cigar band describes the name of the brand, perhaps the country of origin, and maybe a catch phrase such as "Hecho a Mano." But a new trend is emerging in the cigar business where a few outgoing cigarmakers are using cigar bands to convey a far greater message than before.
Ventura Cigar Co. just shipped the Psyko Seven cigar, made in the Dominican Republic by Hendrik Kelner at Occidental Kelner cigars. The cigar sports what might be the largest cigar band in the industry, a 3-inch-wide, 2 1/2-inch-high sheet that's half the size of an index card. The band contains not only the name of the cigar, but the frontmark, elaborate details of the blend (which is a seven-nation mélange of tobaccos) and even the name and address of the distributor company. Making the band look even larger, it is wrapped on the cigar diagonally, so more of the cigar is covered by band than is not. (Because very little of the cigar can be smoked with this band in place, there is a smaller, more traditional band beneath, as Ventura anticipates the end consumer to remove the big band before smoking.)
In a witty move, the main band is designed to look like a prescription form, complete with an Rx, the tongue-in-cheek tag line "medicate your mind" and a fake doctor's signature at the bottom.
"It covers almost the entire stick. And when they see what's on the band, a light goes off," said Kevin Newman, brand manager for Ventura, the owner of the Psyko Seven brand. Newman took an outsider's look at this product launch. "I didn't come from the cigar industry," he said. "I went to all the retailers in our area, and I asked ‘What can we do?'" Retailers told him, again and again, that their customers wanted to know more information about what went into the blend.
There was some blowback. "A couple of old guys said ‘This is like releasing the recipe for Coke,'" said Newman. "But there were far more advantages than disadvantages." Modern day consumers "want to know more, and they have unprecedented access to information," said Newman, who believes that an educated consumer is a more involved consumer who will become a return buyer. "The more they know," he told Cigar Insider, "the more likely they are to pick up another stick."
Alec Bradley Cigars was the pioneer in detailed, large bands. The Alec Bradley Fine & Rare, a limited-edition cigar made with an extremely vast number of tobaccos, has a cigar band that takes up roughly half the length of the cigar. The band measures 3 inches by 2 inches when completely unfurled. While it does not have detailed information on the tobacco blend inside the cigar, it lists the date the cigar was rolled, bears the signatures of the actual cigar rollers and supervisors, the weekly production of the brand and the name of the factory in Honduras—Fabrica de Tabacos Raices Cubanas—where the cigars are made. The cigar made its market debut in 2011.
The Alec Bradley Fine & Rare brand, which is made with ten types of tobacco, is produced in very small quantities. The smoke has done very well in Cigar Aficionado and Cigar Insider taste tests, never scoring lower than 90 points. The Fine & Rare BR12-13, a torpedo, scored 92 points in the April Cigar Aficionado.
Boutique cigarmaker Ezra Zion Cigar Co. doesn't pack its cigars with oversized bands, but it does take the very unusual strategy of using the back of each cigar band for promotional purposes. On the underside of its main cigar band (which is blank on just about every other cigar band) it has the address of its website. On the back of its foot bands, it directs smokers toward its social media accounts, encouraging them to share photos of them smoking cigars. The extra printing adds costs, but the makers of the cigar have found it to be worthwhile.
Ezra Zion started the printing this year. "It is a new concept, and we are starting to see the social media-driven cigar smoker begin to follow through with the request of Twitter posts with the photo with a hashtag of the blend they are smoking," said Alan Fonseca of Ezra Zion. He said the extra printing makes his cigar bands about 50 percent more expensive than they would be otherwise. "We believe in time it will be worth more than it costs, as it causes a drawing of eyes to our website, and creates a social media buzz about Ezra Zion cigars."