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Marlboro sex change operation

January 16th, 2012 00:00

The history of the Marlboro brand, which at its very birth in 1924 was promoted the as world’s first cigarettes for women.

Even today “women’s cigarettes” are judged by many, let alone those years, when the very fact of selling cigarettes to women was a cultural shock to say the least. It would perhaps be equal to designing cigarettes for babies today. Women’s cigarettes emerged thanks to suffragettes, who fought for the universal right to vote. These women wanted equality in everything, including bad habits, and they were granted it.

The instructive history of the Marlboro rebranding is a living example of how a minutely developed advertising campaign can help a drowning brand as well as elevate it to the legend status.

Lady with a Mouthpiece Cigarette

For the creative minds of the beginning of the 20th century it was extremely hard to make a female-targeted advertisement for a strictly male product. Marlboro cigarettes were marketed as feminine cigarettes. The slogan selected was purely for women: “Mild as May”. A Hollywood star was invited to become the face of the brand May West

woman with marlboro cigarette poster

Women were the target audience in regards to packaging as well. The filter with a red stripe solved two tasks at hand: to hide a careless lipstick imprint and protect white teeth of women from yellowing. The brand’s success was rather mediocre. No matter how hard the advertising specialists tried, the product was not overly appealing to women – one’s breathing was damaged, teeth yellowed and agonizing dry cough emerged.

marlboro a beauty tip

The World’s First Rebranding

Two decades later the brand had to undergo sex change operation. In 1953 medical scientists made an official statement, where they claimed that cigarette smoking provokes lung cancer. For the first time in the history of the USA the tobacco consumption decreased. In relation to that the communicative positioning of Marlboro changed as well: the owner of the brand Philip Morris decided to fill a different market niche. Now people, who are afraid of cancer but can’t give up smoking, were to become the target audience of the brand.

The image advertising of cigarettes, which now is looked as blasphemous, became history:

marlboro in press
Gee, Dad, you always get the best of everything… even Marlboro!

Cigarettes with filter, among which were Marlboro, were perceived by the customers as cigarettes for women only. After the terrifying medical discovery, however, this type of cigarettes looked safer for the customers. The cigarette manufacturers could not make their minds up about releasing “men’s” cigarettes with a filter – it was believed to be a disastrous marketing move from the outset. Nevertheless, Philip Morris dared to take the step.

In order to change the perception of cigarettes with filter as the product “for girls,” some brilliant marketing solution was required, and Morris decided to invite one of the best American advertisement specialists Leo Burnett. The future legend of the advertisement deciced to kill everything that was feminine in the brand by means of manhood personified. A number of made-up characters, invented by Burnett, such as “case-hardened sailor,” “skyscraper construction workers,” “war correspondents,” were supposed to add some healthy dose of testosterone in to the Marlboro mix. The first and main character was certainly “cowboy the prairie tamer.” He was the character, around whom Leo Burnett built the future advertising campaign.

First, the cowboy was dotting all i’s and crossing all t’s, proving that the cigarette filter does not impact the tobacco taste.

arlboro cowboy in press
The filter doesn’t get between you and the flavor.

The cowboy campaign, which featured models (which were later substituted by real cowboys), was incredibly successful. Cowboy – the personification of the American spirit – cut the customers to the heart. The prints brought to mind the real heroes of America – tough guys, taming the wild prairies. The cowboy has conquered everyone – men and women, black and Latin. Over the course of one year alone Marlboro sales increased so much that they now occupied the fourth entry in the sale rating of all tobacco products.

marlboro cowboymarlboro man

Besides the new Marlboro pack became an even greater packaging sensation – it was this very brand that from then on was released in the flip-top packaging, which as a result became a standard to adhere to. “Flip-top” is a hard cardboard case with a top that flips open. Such pack was extremely practical (cigarettes were not easily crumpled now), as well as it was enormously significant for the market – now the smoker had to display the pack to those, who were around him, every time when he wanted to smoke, for it was uncomfortable to open flip-top in his pocket.

marlboro flip-top box

The logo was one of the key solutions for the Marlboro “sex change operation.” Along with the acquired image of tough cigarettes for real men, the brand got rid of the image’s excessive aristocracy. Originally, during the era of the “feminine” character, the last name of the Duke of Marlborough “Duke of Marlborough”) needed to be maintained; now this aristocratic effeminacy needed to be gotten rid of.

marlboro new design pack

Packaging designer Frank Gianninoto developed the new masculine pack for Marlboro: the white penetrated the red like an arrow.

From that time on “Cowboy Marlboro” has become one of the most successful advertising images, and Marlboro cigarettes – one of the most purchased brands.