From 1954 through 1999, Philip Morris & Co. used a cowboy coined “The Marlboro Man” as their spokesman in advertising campaign. This campaign originated in part to try to popularize filtered cigarettes amongst men, as they were first considered a feminine product when they came out in the 1940s and 50s.
In fact, from 1924 until 1954, Marlboro was marketed as a woman’s cigarette using the slogan “Mild as May”; however, within a matter of months, the brand was given a masculine makeover.
During this span of time, most cigarette companies tried to falsely market filtered cigarettes as a safer alternative by using complex terminology and scientific claims. Philip Morris & Co., however, took a different method and the Marlboro man was born.
When the campaign was proposed, the company planned to use a variety of “manly” figures, including sea captains, weightlifters, war correspondents, construction workers, etc. The cowboy was the first in the new advertising and marketing campaign.
Within a year, Marlboro’s market share rose from less than one percent to becoming the fourth best-selling brand. This led Philip Morris to drop the other manly figures and stick with the cowboy alone.
The Marlboro man campaign depicts a rugged, masculine cowboy figure (usually shown riding a horse through a barren landscape) with nothing but his cigarette. The actor who popularized the cowboy image in the mid-fifties was Paul Birch—he was featured in 3 page magazine ads and TV ads.
In the early 1960s, Marlboro reinvented their ad campaign again. They replaced the actors and began using real working cowboys, rodeo riders or stuntmen. One such cowboy was Carl “Big-un” Bradley from Guthrie, Texas. By 1972, the popularity of the Marlboro man campaign was so popular that Marlboro cigarettes captured the top of the tobacco industry.
The popularity of the Marlboro Man peaked during the 1960s and 1970s. However, the increasing evidence linking cigarette smoking to disease led to a decline in smoking and changed the way cigarettes were be advertised. At least three of the men who portrayed the Marlboro man have died of smoking related illnesses—lung cancer and COPD specifically.
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