In my quest for intriguing facts and figures about brands, innovation and anything in between, I stumbled upon a Iconic Photos blog that discussed the book “The 101 Most Influential People Who Never Lived“, a book about fictitious characters that are alive and well in our psyche throughout history, through to the modern times. This book is accompanied by a blog by the same title.
Topping the list was The Marlboro Man, one of the most iconic characters in pop culture, invented by Philip Morris who commissioned Leo Burnett Ad Agency in 1954 to create a character its Marlboro Cigarettes. This character was based on a cowboys, inspired by a photo shoot and story that appeared in Life Magazine in 1949.
A picture of one of the real-life cowboys, Clarence Hailey Long, inspired Leo Burnett and captured the imagination of the perfect cowboy. And thus Marlboro Man was born in 1954, serving as the central figure in the “Marlboro Country” campaign.
During the 1950s Reader’s Digest magazine published a series of articles that linked smoking with lung cancer. Philip Morris, and the other cigarette companies took notice and each began to market filtered cigarettes. The new Marlboro with a filtered end was launched in 1955. Philip Morris invented “Marlboro Country” largely to answer this new finding. They distilled their manly imagery into the rugged cowboys known as the “Marlboro Men.”
The rest, as they say, is history.
Making Marlboro Man into an icon of popular culture, and help catapult Marlboro become the world’s leading cigarette brand within two decades (by 1972 Marlboro commanded the biggest market share of international selling cigarette brand).
Marlboro, in a 2001-2002 study by the American Center for Disease Control and Prevention, resulted to be the most smoked brand by 41.8% of middle school students and 52.0% of high school students.
Following is the story on the creation of The Marlboro Man in full.
He was the Most Influential Man Who Never Lived. Though there were many Marlboro Man models over time until 1999 (factoid: but only three of them succumbed to lungs cancer), the original inspiration for the Philip Morris cigarette advertising campaign came through Life magazine photographs by Leonard McCombe from 1949.
Clarence Hailey Long (above) was a 39-year-old, 150-pound foreman at the JA ranch in the Texas panhandle, a place described as “320,000 acres of nothing much.” Once a week, Long would ride into town for a store-bought shave and a milk shake. Maybe he’d take in a movie if a western was playing. He was described as “as silent man, unassuming and shy, to the point of bashfulness [with a] face sunburned to the color of saddle leather [with cowpuncher’s] wrinkles radiating from pale blue eyes.” He wore “a ten-gallon Stetson hat, a bandanna around his neck, a bag of Bull Durhamtobacco with its yellow string dangling from his pocket, and blue denim, the fabric of the profession”. He said things like, “If it weren’t for a good horse, a woman would be the sweetest thing in the world.” He rolled his own smokes.
When the cowboy’s face and story appeared in LIFE in 1949, advertising exec Leo Burnett had an inspiration. Philip Morris, which had introduced Marlboro as a woman’s cigarette in 1924, was seeking a new image for the brand. The image managed to transform a feminine campaign, with the slogan “Mild as May”, into one that was masculine in a matter of months. The “Marlboro Cowboy” and “Marlboro Country” campaigns based on Long boosted Marlboro to the top of the worldwide cigarette market and Long to the top of the marriage market: Long’s Marlboro photographs led to marriage proposals from across the nation, all of which he rejected.
By the time the Marlboro Man went national in 1955, sales were at $5 billion, a 3,241% jump over the previous year. Over the next decade, Burnett and Philip Morris experimented with other manly types — ball players, race car drivers and rugged guys with tattoos (often friends of the creative team, sporting fake tattoos); all worked, but the Marlboro Man worked the best. By the time the first article linking lung cancer to smoking appeared in Reader’s Digest in 1957, the Marlboro sales were at $20 billion. Before the Marlboro Man, the brand’s U.S. share stood at less than 1%, but in 1972 (a year after the cigarette ads were banned from American televisions) it became the No. 1 tobacco brand in the world.
Inspiration: Iconic Photos