Marketing is the art of persuading and convincing people, to spend money on something they need. When done right, Marketing becomes a powerful tool, that can sell anything to anyone. However, persuasion shouldn’t transform into manipulation, because nowadays Marketing doesn’t have the best reputation. 

Marketing can sell poison. Good Marketing, with a great strategy, can sell even unethical products or services.  

Today we will talk about one of the top marketing campaigns, even if we are against marketing for unhealthy products like Tobacco. A clever agency like Leo Burnett succeeded to make inhaling toxic fumes into the lungs a lifestyle of independence. 

Marlboro’s Problem

In the 1920s, Marlboro was at first a cigarette brand that targeted women, because, at that time, tobacco companies, like Marlboro saw female smokers as an untapped market, and positioned itself as a feminine cigarette for classy women. Because other brands were strictly for men, and it was hard to find women smoking Benson & Hedges because they would be considered lower class or unladylike. 

Marlboro had initially “Mild as May” as a tagline, to show that the cigarettes are not that strong for women. However, in the 1950s, Philip Morris, the tobacco manufacturing company and the makers of Marlboro, tried to reposition the brand to target a larger market, which is men. 

They wanted to shift their focus to young males, who were concerned about the dangers of smoking unfiltered cigarettes. Because the cigarette consumption slowed due to the publishing of studies that started to link cigarettes to lung cancer, and publish insights into the harmful effects of smoking.

Filtration became a necessity because filtered cigarette was said to reduce the amount of tar and other toxic chemicals. Marlboro claimed their cigarettes as “safer” due to their filters. 

Marlboro’s Solution: Buyer Persona

It was a great way to reposition the brand and target a new audience. Before understanding Marlboro and Leo Burnett’s strategy, we will understand what does repositioning means. 

Repositioning is a major change in the positioning of the brand or the product. It’s changing the audience’s perception of the product’s key benefits and features. A successful repositioning requires changing the target market’s understanding of the product, service, or brand. The repositioning was of course preceded by a segmentation. The market segmentation is dividing the target market into approachable groups based on demographics, needs, priorities, and common interests.

Marlboro wanted to make the male customers see their cigarettes as safe and won’t damage their health. But they didn’t know that they will still not convinced by Marlboro, because the filter feminized more the Marlboro brand in the eyes of American men. Men were seduced by the idea of filtered cigarettes, but they didn’t want to smoke “feminine” cigarettes, and they saw that it was smoked by less masculine men, and it was also weak and less flavorful cigarettes.

The mistake was not understanding the buyer persona, they understood the market, but not the customer. 

A buyer persona is a profile that represents your ideal customer. It’s useful because it helps marketers consider the goals, desires, and limitations of buyers to understand and relate to them. The buyer persona helps also to focus on the challenges and pain points of the prospects and then provide them with the right content at the right time. It also helps you to not lose potential customers’ interest. 

First of all, Marlboro tried to find the right person to represent the brand, they didn’t connect it with a businessman, but with Cowboy. 

“The Marlboro Man” Campaign

They named their campaign “The Marlboro Man”. The advertising agency understood that men believe that a men’s cigarette could symbolize and represent his image. That’s why they looked for a concept that can be full of masculinity, power, independence and liberty, and strength. 

The cowboy is perceived by people as a sign of masculinity and strength. So a cowboy who smokes and still being healthy is like saying that cigarettes don’t kill, which sent a positive message to prospective customers. They also changed the packaging, it was tough and could protect the cigarettes in rough conditions. Marlboro changed their slogan to The filter doesn’t get between you and the flavor!” 

The company didn’t just replace the feminine character with a masculine one, it positioned itself to symbolize a lifestyle of independence and self-reliance. They didn’t talk about the danger of smoking, but they suggested that smoking was about independence, which is what most American white men, from the middle-class in the 1950s, sought.

The Marlboro Man was clever because it found success at a time when Americans were learning that cigarettes were genuinely dangerous, addictive products that could kill you. And today no one can believe that Marlboro was first marketed as a woman’s cigarette.

“The Marlboro Man” Campaign
“The Marlboro Man” Campaign

“The Marlboro Man” Results

After the repositioning and understanding the problems of the buyer persona, the sales of the company increased by 3000%. It also became the most-purchased cigarette brand in the U.S. after having just 1% market share a year earlier. 

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