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Believe It Or Not, Marlboro Cigarettes Used To Be Marketed To Women

Phillip Morris, Inc.

Growing up, many of us were used to seeing cigarettes marketed by the use of the Marlboro man, suggesting that the brand was a perfect for males who were adventurous, rugged, in need of a smoke break, or really any kind of male at all. With time, Marlboro and their ads had shifted to targeting men, when it was actually first marketed as a woman’s cigarette.

Marlboro is one of the world’s largest cigarette companies, born back in 1924. When the brand first began its sales, it targeted women, giving off the air that a cigarette was sophisticated and classy.

The company, which is under the Philip Morris marketers umbrella, wanted to choose a name that gave off an air of elegance and class, and because Winston Churchill was in the news frequently at the time, they had chosen ‘Earl of Marlborough,’ a man whom he was related to. Instead of going with Marlborough, they shortened the spelling to Marlboro for aesthetic reasons.

The company had painted a red band around the filter in order to hide women’s lipstick stains, and their marketing slogan was “Beauty Tips to Keep the Paper from your Lips.”

After two decades, Philip Morris shifted the campaign after their sales slumped due to new information about lung cancer. In 1953, cigarette consumption as a whole slowed in the U.S. and cigarette companies across the nation created different strategies to combat the new information.

Companies like Marlboro claimed their cigarettes were “safer” because they were filtered. However, up until this point filtered cigarettes were marketed exclusively to women. Men wanted to switch to filtered cigarettes because of health concerns but feared the way they would be perceived in society if they were caught smoking such a “feminine” cigarette.

Philip Morris, Inc.

Cigarette companies jumped on the notion, repositioning their marketing tactics to include men. Once the company introduced the Marlboro man, represented by a rugged cowboy, their sales increased to the extent of them becoming the fourth bestselling brand in the nation.

After four men who had played the Marlboro Man had died from smoking-related illnesses such as lung cancer, the company decided to end the campaign in 1999 after it became surrounded by bad press and a negative reputation of both the company and smoking in general.

“For the longest time, the Marlboro Man was synonymous with America's image of itself -- tough, self-sufficient, hard-working,” reports Matt Pearce of the LA Times. “Today, the reality about the Marlboro Man is darker: At least four actors who have played him in ads have died of smoking-related diseases.”

After David McLean, one of the Marlboro Men, had died in 1995, his widow and son had filed a wrongful death lawsuit claiming that McLean could not stop smoking due to his nicotine addiction, blaming it on Philip Morris, Inc. She claimed that McLean had sometimes had to smoke up to five packs per take when putting together ads in order to get the right “look” for the marketing material. He also received cartons of Marlboro cigarettes as gifts from Philip Morris.

Philip Morris, Inc.

Today, smoking among men and women are almost the same, with the numbers only slightly suggesting that men smoke more than women. According to the CDC, in 2014 nearly 19 of every 100 adult men smoked cigarettes, while nearly 15 of every 100 adult women smoked cigarettes.

The new target audience? Both genders, particularly the youth. Philip Morris was slammed in 2014 for its international advertisements that featured “flashy images of young people partying, hooking up and traveling.”

It’s interesting to see the evolution of cigarette ads and the consumers it tries to target. It is reflective of societal shifts as well. Filtered cigarettes were first marketed to women to help them lose weight, and then shifted to men in order to make money from the promise that they were “safer” than unfiltered cigarettes and no longer appeared “too feminine.”

Now, they have shifted to a more gender-neutral stance, which does reflect society’s movement to a more progressive place in terms of gender equality, but also signals how valuable millennials are to the cigarette companies as consumers due to their large population and fun-loving, progressive attitudes.

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