The Marlboro Man Gives Us a Lesson Lifestyle Advertising

Picture yourself driving through a mountainous area, you’re surrounded by lush greenery in your top-down Jeep. The wind is blowing through your hair as you take in the exotic scenery. You’re sporting an expensive pair of sunglasses and a high-quality set of hiking clothes and boots. Beside you is your partner, looking equally as expensive and adventurous. Your puppy is in the backseat of the car, sticking his head out of the window excitedly as he takes in the gorgeous scenery and anticipates the next family adventure.

Many modern-day car advertisements paint this picture of adventure, enticing their viewers with gorgeous natural landscapes and the idea that viewers could be experiencing the moment that the commercial is presenting to them. They create this idea that the only thing stopping you from living this life of adventure, from spontaneously hopping from one gorgeous locale to the next, is having the right car. This type of advertising that creates an ideal aesthetic is known as Lifestyle Advertising and, though it is incredibly common now, the pioneer of its popularity may surprise you.

Photo Credit: Marlboro

Marlboro Cigarettes

The Marlboro brand was originally advertised as a woman’s cigarette brand in 1924. At the time, a woman smoking was viewed as a social taboo, but advertisers saw women as an untapped market. Due to this wave of advertising, by the late 1920s, women smoking was viewed as a symbol of the first wave of feminism.

Marlboro created advertisements that helped shift the narrative. Their slogan ‘Mild as May’ was printed alongside photographs of beautiful women, makeup and hair perfected, with a cigarette held up between their fingers. In these advertisements, cigarettes were being marketed as accessories for upscale events like bridge parties or limo rides. They were even created with grease-proof tips which were meant to help prevent a woman’s lipstick from wiping off when she smoked. These advertisements changed the narrative of smoking to be something viewed as glamorous and upscale, rather than unladylike.

Photo Credit: Marlboro

The Marlboro Man

In the 1950s, reports began to come out that cigarettes could cause lung cancer. According to Business Insider, four independent studies were published which showed that a high percentage of lung cancer patients were also heavy smokers. In fact, in 1954, the scientists at the American Cancer Society stated that, “Men with a history of regular cigarette smoking have a considerably higher death rate than men who have never smoked or men who have smoked only cigars or pipes.”

So obviously things weren’t looking too great for cigarette companies, right? In light of this new research, Marlboro made it their mission to create a filtered cigarette which (at the time) they believed would lower the amount of toxic chemicals being inhaled. The problem was that filtered cigarettes were viewed as weaker and therefore not as masculine, so how would they advertise this new and seemingly safer product to men?

Photo Credit: Marlboro

Thus, the Marlboro Man was born. Marlboro worked with the Leo Burnett Worldwide Ad Agency and came up with the idea of a character known as the ‘Marlboro Man’ who would be the embodiment of both masculinity and peak health. There were many different iterations of the Marlboro Man, often sporting military tattoos, but the cowboy character was the one with whom most American men identified.

Creating a specific character that became the mascot of their brand, a character that men wanted to emulate, was incredibly effective. The Marlboro man embodied this sense of masculinity, adventure, and peak physical health that men viewing the print advertisements wanted for themselves. The ads were a huge success and the Marlboro sales increased by $15 billion a mere three years after the Marlboro Man first appeared in their advertisements.

From car commercials creating an adventurous aesthetic to the Progressive commercials and their ever-growing cast of characters, modern advertisers still employ the Lifestyle Advertising technique that Marlboro popularized so long ago.