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[Herald Interview] Zippo to ignite new flame in Korea: exec

Zippo, most widely known in Korea and around the world for its portable lighters dating back to the second world war, is aiming to rebrand in efforts to reach out to more consumers in search of individuality.

“On a global basis, Zippo is moving aggressively from a lighter manufacturing company to a lifestyle products marketing company,” David B. Warfel, the global marketing director of Zippo Manufacturing Co., said in an interview with The Korea Herald. 
David Warfel. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)
David Warfel. (Park Hae-mook/The Korea Herald)

To achieve what seems to be a daunting task considering Zippo’s conspicuous presence as a lighter brand, Warfel said the company is betting that its reputation as a brand tailoring to individuals and focused on quality control will help it navigate the Korean market.

“A Zippo lighter is a men’s accessory. It doesn’t just exist for smoking. Lots of our sales go to non-smokers. They just like to have this badge as a way of defining personality,” Warfel said.

Personality is something that Zippo will be adding to the other lineup of products it has aside from portable flames.

Not straying too much from its image as a rugged, iconic, all-American brand, it churns out a variety of outdoor products, such as camping necessities and also men’s accessories such as apparel, watches and leather goods.

Koreans are also growing more interested in the outdoor experience, Warfel said, noting the potential for growth here: “It is an emerging trend in Korea. When you look at the very strongly emerging interest in environmental issues, in green, the Earth, that will pull interest towards outdoor experiences.”

Korea is Zippo’s No. 2 market following China, and it has shown annual revenue increases of 30 percent, annually, since 1997.

A global anti-smoking trend, however, is weighing on the company, but Warfel shrugged off the concerns.

“The smoking legislation and the social and cultural bias against tobacco products impacts our business. It is not the motivation but certainly is a consideration for extending the brand into other products,” the director said.

This year, Zippo expects lighters to account for 54 percent of its $200m annual revenue, which is much lower than the 90 percent the lighters enjoyed in the late 1990s.

To further boost its images and relate with the younger generation, some of whom are not as familiar with Zippo, the company will host the “Zippo Encore Presents Battle of Bands” next month.

With the event, Zippo said it hopes to offer amateur rock bands in Korea a chance to flaunt their talent, while at the same time demonstrating it is contemporary and relevant.

By Kim Ji-hyun (