I was employed by an advertising agency in Chicago, and we were called in to a cigarette company in New York. They were dismayed by their ranking of thirty-first largest-selling brand in America and their perception as a feminine brand. It was true in the early sixties that more women smoked than men. But men smoked more cigarettes. So the client asked if we were up to the job of improving that dismal ranking of the brand while changing the perception of it to something more masculine. “Can you do that?” they asked. “We can try,” we countered, so we flew back to Chicago and to the ad agency. Immediately, we dispatched two photographers and one art director to a ranch owned by a friend of the art director. The ranch was in West Texas and ran a giant herd of cattle. We told the photographers to spend two weeks shooting cowboys working on the ranch. “Unposed pictures,” we told them. “Show cowboys, horses and beautiful scenery. No cows, no women, no poses.” While they were gone, we invented a new place. “Marlboro Country,” we called it. And we came up with a theme line: “Come to where the flavor is. Come to Marlboro Country.” When the photographers returned, we developed their pictures, blew them up, and pasted our words across them. We thought we had accomplished our task and were psyched about making our presentation to the Marlboro brand group. We presented the Marlboro cowboy to the brand group – Marlboro Country, the theme line, TV storyboards (we had rented the music to “The Magnificent Seven” for $50,000 a year because it was legal in those days to hawk carcinogens on radio and TV), billboards, and layouts for newspaper and magazine ads.
After a year had passed, we flew back to New York to get our high fives, our pats on the back, and our well-deserved congratulations. After one year, Marlboro cigarettes, which had been the thirty-first largest selling brand in America – was still thirty-first. Focus group interviews in five cities revealed that this brand, once considered a feminine brand, was still perceived of as a feminine brand! We had shown real cowboys doing what real cowboys do on a real ranch. Every graphic we used was macho to the core. But still, people considered Marlboros to be a ladies’ brand.
Now, switch to today. We see that Marlboro is the number one selling brand in America. It’s number one to men. It’s number one to women. In fact, it’s the most popular cigarette brand in the world. One out of five cigarettes sold on earth is a Marlboro. But here’s the real punch line: nothing had changed in the marketing or advertising. It’s still the Marlboro Man. It’s still Marlboro Country. No more radio and no more TV in the U.S.A., but the campaign remained totally unchanged since those first days it made its debut.
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