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The Marketing Strategy of Malboro Cigarettes


Cigarettes causes cancer.

A fact that is also a well-known phrase. We can all find innumerable examples of this fact plastered anywhere around us, whether it's on cigarette packets or during the advertisement time at the beginning of a movie in the theatres.

Another fact about cigarettes is that on the 11th of January 1964, the United States government officially recognised that cigarettes cause cancer. However, within a day of the revelation, an $8 billion tobacco business and the livelihoods of 7,50,000 families were jeopardised.

While other businesses saw sales decline, one company rose from a 1% market share to become the world's fourth-largest cigarette brand in less than a year.

Before 1970, there were a lot of cigarette commercials. However, following the permanent ban on cigarette commercials on television in 1970, this brand grew in popularity and eventually became the world's largest cigarette maker.

This brand is none other than Marlboro. Marlboro's market share is now so large that it outnumbers its top ten competitors combined.

But then there's the question of what they did. What strategic hat did they don that allowed them to become an overnight success?


The same cancer report and statement, as well as the ban, that were supposed to harm the company's business, turned out to be a stepping stone for the company to become a $58 billion brand.

The answer can be found in one of the most common marketing methods, which is still the lifeblood and source of money for many of these businesses and it's called

Lifestyle marketing.

Let's try to comprehend the notion by utilising a very simple example that might be more understandable before we describe the concept and how Malboro managed to bag the approach for its fullest use.

Let's go back to when you were a kid in the 1990s. You'd get excited every time you turned on the Sports channel because there was a cricket match on, and you'd want to know how your team was doing.

Especially if you're an Indian, you were eagerly looking forward to Sachin Tendulkar taking the field and demonstrating his incredible abilities to lead the team to victory.

Whether it was football, cricket, or any other sport, you became such a fan of one of the most idolised and best performing players that you constantly thought of your favourite player. In this article, let's take an example of the MRF bat.

You or someone in your circle of friends must have heard about the MRF bat at some point in their lives. This MRF bat was so popular at the time that practically everyone owned one, regardless of whether they were playing professional cricket or street cricket.

Furthermore, chances are that when you went to the store to get a bat for yourself, you had no idea what kind of wood the bat was made of or which one was best for you. You didn't care if it was genuine or a knockoff; all you needed was a bat.

Then you were offered the option of choosing between these two bats. A bat with or without an MRF label.

Which one did you go with? It's very easy to guess.

I can see you picking up the MRF one.

However, did you know that MRF stands for Madras Rubber Factory?

Guess not.

Also, MRF is essentially a rubber tyre manufacturing company that happened to be sponsoring Sachin Tendulkar at the time.

A similar history occurred, when Dhoni began using Reebok bats. Or even now, when someone you fervently follow has an influence on some of your purchasing decisions.

Source: the Rugby Catalog

Consider a perfume released by a favourite band or pop artist. Even if the item is utterly unlike your taste, you simply want to feel closer to that ideal or person by having anything connected to them.

Now, was it a coincidence that millions of children across the country were so enthralled that they bought a bat with a rubber tyre company sticker on it?

If the answer is no, how did this happen in the first place? This, in a nutshell, is what lifestyle marketing is all about.


We all looked up to Sachin Tendulkar and wished to be like him. So, subconsciously, the MRF bats gave us the impression that we were carrying the same bat as Sachin Tendulkar.

We didn't buy MRF bats for the bats themselves, but rather for the connection they had with our idol, Sachin Tendulkar, because we wanted to be like him or just resonate with him in some way.

Now, in the United States, the same thing happened with Nike's Air Jordan shoe line-up, where, after signing up Michael Jordan, the infatuation with Air Jordan shoes grew to the point where, even after so many years of retirement, Michael Jordan still receives $100 million per year in royalties.

This is known as lifestyle marketing, in which customers are more interested in the lifestyle of the product's icon than in the product itself.

And this is exactly what Marlboro cigarette marketers did to their brand. Following the release of the surgeon general's report in 1964, brands began to do all in their power to maintain their reputation.

Some brands attempted to defend cigarettes, while others vehemently opposed the research itself. Marlboro was a modest company that solely made cigarettes for ladies back then.

However, as soon as this information got public, Marlboro's parent firm, Philip Morris, chose to change their marketing strategy and became the epitome of business propaganda in the twentieth century.


Instead of defending smoking with difficult-to-understand facts, Marlboro's marketers created a campaign called the Marlboro Man. They introduced a figure called "The Marlboro Man" who was purportedly everything a man desired to be like as a result of this campaign.

The Marlboro Man was a cowboy with a superbly built-up body who was portrayed as the ideal archetype of manhood in the commercial. He was tough, affectionate, and elegant, and he was a symbol of independence and manliness.

And, just as we youngsters were sold on MRF, 1960s cricketers were so enthralled by the Marlboro man that they began buying Marlboro cigarettes in large quantities, resulting in the advertisement becoming a significant game-changer for the corporation.


Within a year, Marlboro had risen from a market share of less than 1% to become the world's fourth-largest cigarette maker. The interesting thing is that in none of those commercials was the cigarette the main focus.

In fact, in all of the commercials, cigarettes received fewer than 10 seconds of filming time. Because of this, even when cigarette commercials were permanently banned from television and brands were unable to portray cigarettes in commercials or on television, Marlboro was able to easily manoeuvre around the situation because their attention was already on Marlboro Man himself, not on cigarettes.

That's how they were able to effortlessly express their feelings, even in print and publications. This is why Marlboro's company continued to flourish even after the 1970 prohibition.

In fact, because the other firms were struggling to advertise their brands without showcasing their products, sales exploded. This is how Marlboro became a marketing legend, laying the groundwork for the brand's $58 billion valuations.


Now, this renowned case study can teach us more than just a business lesson; it can also teach us something significant about life. People, like Marlboro in the 1960s, fail to comprehend that they are continually bombarded with lifestyle cigarette advertising that does not appear as advertisements but rather as pop culture icons.

Whether it's James Bond in a tuck, symbolising gentlemanliness, or Kabir Singh in the new film, who is portrayed as the ideal of manliness.

Regardless of how profitable they appear to be, we must recognise that they are successfully exploiting our vulnerabilities to persuade us to do something that will make us feel like a better version of ourselves.

But here's the thing: it's not true.

We don't realise that our insecurities are putting money in the pockets of the bad guys, which will eventually help those companies make billions of dollars while turning you into a sick, miserable addict of either a cigarette or social validation, depending on what we're buying into, due to a lack of self-awareness. So keep an eye out for these traps and do your best to avoid them.


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