The Marlboro cigarettes brand is undoubtedly by far the largest selling brand of cigarettes in the entire world and in many countries its dominance is so great that it makes up even 75% of the market share, leaving little room for proper competition by any other brand. The success of this brand, both as a smoking product and as an image is so great that it has come to be almost synonymous to smoking itself. Originally made in London, in a factory located on Great Marloborough Street, the brand was named after this street. Currently, the largest Marlboro manufacturing plant is located in Richmond, Virginia, since the brand is owned and marketed in the American market by Philip Morris USA, which is a branch of the Altria Group. Outside the US, the Marlboro brand is made, marketed and sold by Philip Morris International, which is independent and separate from Altria.
What is remarkable and perhaps little known about the history of the Marlboro brand is the fact that Philip Morris had originally launched it back in 1924 as a woman’s cigarette, supported by the slogan “Mild As May”. The early advertising for the cigarette was primarily based around how ladylike the filter cigarette was, in an attempt to appeal to the mass market of female smokers. To make this even more effective, the filter had a printed red band around it to hide lipstick stains, calling it “Beauty Tips to Keep the Paper from Your Lips”.
The repositioning and rebranding of Marlboro to target the male smokers came after the publication of scientific research accusing smoking of causing lung cancer. These made many men willing to switch to a filtered cigarette, since by then most cigarettes were unfiltered and the filtered ones were considered a female product. What was needed therefore was a drastically different new image for the brand to be able to attract male smokers, who wouldn’t like to be seen smoking a brand that was previously associated with female smokers.
The first step in the rebranding was the new red and white package that was designed by the Designer Frank Gianninoto. The second step was the launching of a vigorous advertising campaign, which was assigned to Chicago advertiser Leo Burnett, who submitted a proposal that included a lineup of manly figures: sea captains, weightlifters, war correspondents, construction workers and others, with the cowboy figure being the first in the series. However, the cowboy proved so successful and effective, reflected in the fact that within a year Marlboro became the fourth best selling brand, recording a remarkable increase in sales that the rest of the figures were dropped and the cowboy remained, quickly turning into an emblematic figure for many generations of smokers, not only in the USA, but across the globe.
The cowboy figure greatly aided the rapid expansion and final dominance of Marlboros in the smoking market because it managed to embody and convey effectively or the messages and connotations that the brand wanted to pass on and inspire it its target smokers group. In a nutshell, the message was that irrespective of cultural status or social background, smoking and smoking a Marlboro in particular, was an act to be enjoyed by any man, giving him an enhanced sense of self, of freedom, of power. A Marlboro smoker confidently riding his proud horse and having a good time out in the nature was a symbol of grace, good taste and elegance, but above all someone who was free, confident, the master of natural elements, a person who could easily put aside all his worries and enjoy a good smoke in the wilderness.
The image of Marlboro as a brand and the Marlboro man as a figure became so strong and forceful that all competitive brands have never quite managed to overcome it, despite the repeated and well designed efforts by the likes of Kent, Camel and Lucky Strike, to name but a few.
Being sold and marketed in a variety of types and potencies in order to fully satisfy the changing demands of the smoking market and the varying tastes and preferences of smokers of all ages and backgrounds across the globe, the Marlboro brand continues its success unabated and has managed to survive despite the increasingly competitive and challenging environment created by advertising bans, anti-smoking campaigns, the imposition of higher taxes on cigarettes or the emergence of many low cost smoking brands trying to gain a market share. Marlboros are not a cheap brand, nor are they in favor of compromising their quality in terms of taste, flavour, scent or image. And they can afford to keep their standards simply because they are absolutely adored by the millions of loyal smokers all over the world who would never change their Marlboro with anything else!