Marketing Strategy Genius – Marlboro Cigarettes

Marlboro Marketing Case Study – On the historic data of 11th of January 1964 it was officially declared that cigarettes cause cancer, within a day $8 billion tabacco industry and incomes of over 750K people were are stake.

Most companies saw their sales dropping, it was one company that miraculously went from having just 1% market share to becoming that 4th largest cigarette brand in the world in less that 1 year. After 1970 when cigarette ads were banned, this brand became even more popular, to go on to become the largest manufacturer of cigarettes in the world. This brand we are talking about goes by the name Marlboro. It’s so huge today that it has got more consumers than the next 10 competitors combined.

The question is what the hell did they do? The very same ban on ads and the cancer report which was supposed to kill the business ended up becoming a stepping stone for Marlboro to become a $58 billion brand.

Packet of 20 Marlboro (cigarettes)

The answer to this lies in one of the most iconic marketing strategies ever witnessed by mankind, which is called as lifestyle marketing

Let’s try to understand this with an example

If you are a 90’s kid and you watched Sachin Tendulkar play, at some point in your life you or your friend must have bought an MRF bat and chances are when you visited a store, you knew nothing about English Willow, Kashmiri Willow, you did not care which wood was best for the bat, you did not care if it was original or duplicate, you just wanted a bat and you had two choices. Bats with no stickers and bats with MRF sticker and you chose MRF by default.

You didn’t even know the full form of MRF and by the way MRF is primarily a rubber tyre manufacturer which happened to sponsor Sachin. Later on the same happened with Reebok when they started sponsoring MS Dhoni. Now here is a question, is it mere coincidence that millions of kids were so stupid to mindlessly buy a bat with MRF stickers which is just a rubber tyre manufacturer? If not, then how did this even happen.

Well here is where the magic of lifestyle marketing happens, we all idolize Sachin and we all wanted to be just like him, so subconsciously the MRF bats made us feel as if we were holding the exact same bat as Sachin. So to put this straight what we essentially bought into when we bought MRF bats is not the bat itself, but the connect that it had with our idol that is Sachin Tendulkar, because we wanted be like him.

Now is the United States the same thing happened with Nike Air Jordan, wherein when Nike signed Michael Jordan, the fascination for shoes became so crazy that even after 18 years of his retirement, he still makes $100 million every single year just in royalty. This is what we call as lifestyle marketing.

With lifestyle marketing, consumers buy more into the lifestyle of the icon who is associated with the product than the product itself and this is exactly what the marketers of Marlboro Cigarettes did with their brand.

Why did Marlboro change their marketing strategy?

After 1964 report which was released by the surgeon general of the United States, brands started to do everything in their capacity to keep their reputation, some brands tried to justify cigarettes while some completely disapproved the very research itself. None of this helped and their sales plummeted.

Cigarette ad in 1950s
CAMELS Cigarette ad from 1950s

Back then Marlboro was a very small company that made cigarettes only for women, but as soon as this news broke out the parent company of Marlboro which is Philip Morris, decided to shift their method of marketing and became an epitome of business propaganda in the 20th century.

So… What did the Marketers of Marlboro Do?

Instead of trying to justify smoking and using stats that were very difficult to understand, they came out with a campaign called “The Marlboro Man”, wherein they introduced a character that was supposedly everything a man wanted to be like and they named this character “The Marlboro Man”.

The Marlboro Man – at least 4 Marlboro mens have died of smoking related disease till now

Marlboro man was a cowboy who had perfectly buildup body and the commercial showcased him as the ultimate architype of freedom and manliness and just as we kids bought into MRF bats or Nike Air Jordans, man of the 1960’s were so fascinated by the Marlboro man and started buying Marlboro cigarettes. This commercial became a massively massive gamechanger for the company and within a year Marlboro went from having less than 1% market share to becoming the 4th largest cigarettes manufacturer in the world.

The fun fact here is, in all those commercials cigarette was not even the primary subject of focus. Infact cigarette as a product got less than 10 seconds of footage time in those ads and because of this when other cigarette brands were not able to show their products on television and print media due to the ban, Marlboro was very easily able to navigate through this situation because their focus was anyways not cigarettes but on the Marlboro Man himself. This is how they were able to communicate their emotion very easily even through print and television media, despite the ban and they kept on growing while others were struggling.

Marlboro became a legend in advertising and laid the foundation for Marlboro to become a $58 billion brand. More than a business lesson this is a very very important life lesson that we all need to learn from this iconic case study.

How brands are still using Marlboro’s genius Strategy?

Just like Marlboro in the 1960’s even today what we often fail to realize is that we are constantly being bombarded with lifestyle cigarette commercials that do no appear as ads but in form of pop culture icons, this includes James Bond, where he appears in a tuxedo and symbolizes gentlemanliness, portrayed as epitome of manliness.

James Bond smoking

Now regardless of how lucrative they look what is important for us to understand here is that they are merely tapping onto your insecurities to convince you to do something which will give you a feeling as if you are an elevated version of yourself. The truth because of your lack of self-awareness you don’t realize that your insecurities are putting money into their pockets, eventually to make those companies billions of dollars by turning you into a sick miserable addict of either cigarettes or social validation depending on what you are buying into. So keep your eyes open and DO NOT fall into these traps.

Key Takeaway from this Study

The most important advise from us is that , Always remember that buying into dumb shit will never make you feel happier or make you a better version of yourself the only thing that will make you feel better is acceptance of your insecurities and imperfections, at the end of the day if you do not embrace your insecurities some billion dollar brand will dig into your misery and make a fortune out of it.

So think about it and if you believe in the message we wanted to convey, Share this article with as many people as possible and like once a great women said “Imperfection is beauty, madness is genius and it is better to be absolutely ridiculous than to be boring”.


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