Introduction



   
     "Marlboro.  You get a lot to like, filter, flavor, flip-top box."
     "Where there's a man...there's a Marlboro-with a filter that delivers a
          smoke of surprising mildness."
     "Better 'makins'. Marlboro...More flavor...More filter...More cigarette."
     "If you think flavor went out when filters came in-Try Marlboro."
     "Make yourself comfortable-Have a Marlboro"
     "Marlboro.  Why don't you settle back and have a full flavored smoke"
     "Settle Back.  You get a lot to like here in Marlboro Country."
     "Come to where the flavor is.  Come to Marlboro Country"
     "Come to where the flavor is."
     "Come to Marlboro Country."
     "Marlboro." 

A Western landscape, a rugged cowboy and the color red have come to embody years of advertising tag lines for Philip Morris' Marlboro cigarettes. These three elements, combined or separate, are recognizable as the American call to Marlboro Country even without the brand name, sales pitch or slogan. We, as consumers, all know where the flavor is and what can be found in Marlboro Country. Marlboro advertisements today reap the benefits of the tradition that proceeds them; they capture a complex message which tries to distinguish a product from competitors that are largely the same, in a simple image and a couple of words. As the paragraphs of descriptive copy diminished from the advertisements, so diminished the direct connection between the brand name Marlboro and the actual product that the advertisement is selling, cigarettes. The brilliantly designed campaign, the strong image of the mythical American hero, the cowboy, and a successful series of responses to market challenges by the Marlboro team has created an immediately and universally recognized icon representing an idealized and appealing American lifestyle out of possibly the only "product on the market (aside from weapons) that kill and injure when they are used as they are intended to be used."(White 24).

The phenomenon is extraordinary. Marlboro, a virtually unknown brand in 1955, has steadily increased sales for the past forty years. By December 1975, in just twenty years, Marlboro was named the "top selling brand in the United States and the all-time best-seller in the world"(PM History 20). In 1989, Marlboro was "America's best seller by far, with one fourth of all cigarette sales", Philip Morris held 43% of the domestic market, and made $4.6 billion from tobacco sales-nearly two thirds of the company's total profits(US News and World Report 3/5/90 57). Marlboro remains today "the world's most profitable brand of non-durable consumer good, surpassing even Coca-Cola."(Economist 4/21/90 84). In a company that owns popular brands such as General Foods, Kraft, Oscar Mayer and Miller Brewing, Marlboro cigarettes provide an astounding majority of Philip Morris, Inc. earnings.

The red and white geometric packaging of Marlboro is unmistakable and the foremost display on retail counters across the country and abroad. Billboards that punctuate American highways and magazines, from Life to Playboy, display Marlboro's panoramic photography and color spreads of the quintessential cowboy working the Western range. The crux of Marlboro's firm advertising grasp on the public and media is the visceral American response to the Marlboro cowboy and the draw to his uniquely American paradise of the West, Marlboro Country. Aesthetically, the fresh, healthy, natural attitude portrayed in these cigarette advertisements appeal to everyone, smokers, nonsmokers, men, women, old and young.

Marlboro Country and the man who lives there, barely call to mind cigarettes much less the mental image of cigarettes as "products [that when] used as intended turn many customers into addicts and kill them."(The Economist 4/10/93). The U.S. Surgeon General has declared smoking as addictive as heroin and has blamed cigarettes for millions of deaths each year. In 1971, commercials for cigarettes were banned from television and radio. One year later, laws required manufacturers to include health warnings on all advertisements, direct mail, and point of sale material. Anti-smoking education is increasingly popular and heavily funded. Non- smokers are reminded that addicts enjoy annoyances from throat irritation, shortness of breath, loss of sensitivity to taste and smell, to fatal diseases such as lung cancer, emphysema and heart disease. Tough anti-smoking legislation has restricted smoking from inside public buildings and on all domestic flights. Smokers face growing social disapproval, hostile stares and angry remarks. Yet despite the restricted market and public wariness, Marlboro advertisements are consistently and wildly successful. Philip Morris was voted the second most admired company in America by a pool of 8,000 American executives in Fortune Magazine.(The Economist 4/21/90) Ironically, the number one most admired company in the same poll was a health care company.

The sharp marketing skills of Philip Morris have allowed the "most vilified and restricted legal product in the Western world"(The Economist 4/21/90) to be masqueraded as and glorified by the most universally recognized, consistently profitable, and aesthetically appealing image in the advertising world. The Marlboro image has soared in popularity and tapped into an irrational emotional appeal. It has cleverly left behind the product which is unhealthy, un-beneficial, and virtually unidentifiable in appearance and quality from its competitors. Like the tough individual they portray, Philip Morris has used the skills of a cowboy to boldly meet challenges in the market, to remain steadfast through the years by refining advertisements from informational pieces to works of art, and based upon image alone, has silently seduced a large following in a hostile environment. Thus despite the odds, the rugged cowboy with or without the western landscape and red flip-top box immediately calls to mind the brand Marlboro and has become an icon to more than one generation and zeitgeist, building Marlboro into the top selling brand since the late fifties.


  • From "Mild as May" to "Tough as Shoeleather"
  • Marboro Man Meets the Surgeon General
  • Promotions, Sports, and Fantasy Consumerism
  • Bibliography Return to Home Page