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How did Philip Morris Build Marlboro, A 58 Billion dollars Company?

In today’s buzz, we will see How Philip Morris used lifestyle marketing to transform Marlboro Brand from only 1% market share to a 58 billion dollars company.

On the historic date of 11th of January 1964, it was officially declared by the United States government that cigarettes cause cancer. And within a day an 8 Billion dollar tobacco industry and the incomes of 7,50,000 families were at stake.

While most companies saw their sales dropping down, one company miraculously went from having just 1% market share to becoming the 4th largest cigarette brand in the world in less than one year.

And after 1970 when cigarette advertisements were permanently banned from televisions this brand became even more popular to go on to become the largest manufacturer of cigarettes in the world. This brand that I’m talking about goes by the name Marlboro. And Marlboro today is so huge that it has got more consumers than its next 10 competitors combined.

The question is – What the hell did they do?

Because of which the very same cancer report and the ban which is essentially supposed to kill its business ended up becoming a stepping stone for Marlboro to become a $58 Billion dollars brand.

The answer to this question lies in one of the most iconic marketing strategies ever witnessed by mankind, which is called lifestyle marketing.

Now let’s try to understand this using a very simple example that is closer to home. If you are a 90s kid and you watched Sachin Tendulkar play I bet you that at some point in your life or someone in your friend circle must have bought an MRF bat. And chances are that when you visited the store you knew nothing about English Willow, Kashmir Willow. You did not care which wood the bat was made of. You did not care whether it was original or duplicate, you just wanted a bat. And then you had two choices: bats with no stickers or bats with MRF stickers. And you chose the MRF bat by default And then after that god knows how many years later you realised that the full form of MRF is Madras Rubber Factory. And the fact that MRF is primarily a rubber tyre manufacturing company that just happened to sponsor Sachin Tendulkar.

Later on this very same thing happened to Reebok when Dhoni started using Reebok bats. Now here the question is – is it a coincidence that millions of children all across the country were so stupid to mindlessly buy a bat with a sticker of a rubber tyre company? If not, then how the hell did this even happen?

Well, here’s where the magic of lifestyle marketing happens,

We all idolised Sachin Tendulkar and we all wanted to be like Sachin Tendulkar.

So subconsciously, the MRF bats made us feel as if we were holding the same bat like Sachin Tendulkar himself. So to put that straight, what we essentially brought into when we bought MRF bats is not the bat itself but the connection that it had with our idol, that is, Sachin Tendulkar because we wanted to be like Sachin Tendulkar.

Now in the US, the same thing happened to Nike’s Air Jordan shoe lineup wherein when Nike signed up Michael Jordan the fascination for Air Jordan shoes became so crazy that even today, after 18 years of Michael Jordan’s retirement he still makes 100 million dollars every single year just in royalty.

This is what we call lifestyle marketing wherein consumers buy more into the lifestyle of the icon which is associated with the product than the product itself. And this is exactly what the marketeers of Marlboro cigarettes did to their brand.

After the 1964 report, which was released by the US surgeon general, brands started to do everything in their capacity to keep their reputation. Some brands tried to justify cigarettes while some brands completely disapproved of the very research itself. Back then Marlboro was a very small company that made cigarettes only for women. But as soon as this news broke out the parent company of Marlboro, which is Philip Morris decided to shift their method of marketing and became the epitome of business propaganda in the 20th century

So what the marketers of Marlboro did is that instead of justifying smoking and using statistics that were difficult to understand they came out with a campaign called the Marlboro Man. wherein they introduced a character who was supposedly everything a man wanted to be like. and they named this character “The Marlboro Man”. Marlboro Man was a cowboy who had a perfectly built-up body and the commercial showcased him as the ultimate archetype of manhood. He was tough, affectionate and stylish and overall stood as the icon of freedom and manliness. And just as we kids were brought into MRF bats, men of the 1960s were so fascinated by the Marlboro man and started buying Marlboro cigarettes that the commercial became a massive game-changer for the company. And within a year Marlboro went from having less than 1% market share to become the 4th largest cigarette manufacturer in the world. And the fun fact is in all of those commercials cigarettes were not even the primary subject of focus. In fact, cigarettes as a product got less than 10 seconds of time footage in all of those commercials. And because of this even when cigarette commercials were permanently banned from television and brands couldn’t show cigarettes in commercials or TV, Marlboro was very easily able to navigate through that situation because their focus was anyways not on cigarettes but Marlboro Man himself. And that is how they were able to communicate their emotion very easily even through print and magazine. And this is the reason why even after the 1970 ban Marlboro’s business still kept growing.

In fact, the sales skyrocketed because the rest of the brands were struggling to market their brands without showing their products. And that is how Marlboro became a legend in advertising and laid the foundation for Marlboro to become a $58 billion brand.

Now, more than a business lesson there is a very very important life lesson that we all need to learn from this iconic case study. Like Marlboro in the 1960s, even today, we often fail to realize that we are constantly being bombarded with lifestyle cigarette commercials that do not appear as ads but in the form of pop culture icons. Now, this includes a James Bond appearance wherein he appears in a truck and symbolises gentlemanliness or Kabir Singh who is portrayed as the epitome of manliness.


Interesting facts,

1.The name was taken from a street in London where PM’s British factory was located

2.Philip Morris launched the Marlboro brand in 1924 as a women’s cigarette, based on the slogan “Mild As May”.

3.In the 1920s, the filter had a printed red band around it to hide lipstick stains, calling it “Beauty Tips to Keep the Paper from Your Lips”.

4.The Marlboro Man campaign had an astonishing effect on sales. In 1955 when the Marlboro Man campaign was started, sales were at $5 billion. By 1957, sales reached $20 billion, representing a 300% increase within two years.