After reading an article by James Chartrand entitled “What (bad) Cigarettes Can Teach You About (good) Branding.” As a former smoker born in 1978, I can attest that I loved Marlboros. Of all the tar, chemicals and tobacco junk permanently scarified into my lung tissue, I’d say Marlboro cigarettes contributed to most of it. Why did I smoke Marlboros more than other cigarettes? That question is difficult to answer. After a lot of thinking, I arrived at several reasons for my brand loyalty to Marlboros.
First off, it wasn’t the “Marlboro Man.” I remember seeing the cowboy ads before I lit my first nail (“in my coffin”, as my pops used to say), which was a Marlboro light. In my young eyes the advertisements look hokey and campy—not moving me at all to buy Marlboros in lieu of any other prominent brand. I believe that campaign was derailed sometime in the late eighties when the public learned the Marlboro man died of lung cancer—please correct me if I’m wrong. Maybe if I lived outside Los Angeles in an area more appreciative of cowboy culture, the “Marlboro Man” ads would have influenced me more, but where I grew up cowboys weren’t cool at all.
I’d have to say one of the biggest contributors to my brand loyalty were the Marlboro cigarettes themselves. I experimented with a number of different brands—American Spirit, Camel, Parliament, to name a few—but I always found Marlboro “Reds”, “Mediums” and “Lights” the most satisfying. They gave me massive head-rush and had a flavor that was consistent, though not “good” by any stretch (home-made cookies taste “good”). Any notion or belief I had that Marlboros tasted “good” was an involuntarily learned taste, much like the drooling dogs of the Pavlov experiments. I swear there’s more than just nicotine inside those cigs. Marlboro must be lacing their tobacco with some untraceable psychotropic compound yet unknown to modern science. Experienced smokers know what I’m talking about. Even the strongest American Spirit cancer-stick is anticlimactic to a seasoned Marlboro smoker—tantamount to giving a junkie aspirin to ease his/her pain instead of heroin.
I was also influenced by Marlboros excellent product placement in Hollywood films, most notably their adept placement in Francis Ford Coppola’s iconic film Apocalypse Now. Getting Marlboro 100’s into the shirt pockets of the leading character Benjamin L. Willard (played by Martin Sheen) was a dazzling accomplishment. What foresight to place the Marlboro brand in such a memorable film! The cigarettes got a massive value statement when smoked by Willard—if Marlboro’s can alleviate the stress and trauma of jungle-combat, they can get you through any of life’s hurdles. Plus, Sheen looked pretty cool smoking them. Willard was a very troubled character, and who knows why I identified with him living such a sheltered life. Who really cares, it worked right? I definitely bought “Reds” after watching that film. Marlboro’s have been placed adeptly in a variety of great American films over the years, a practice perhaps more influential in establishing Marlboro brand loyalty than the Marlboro ads, at least in my side of the world.
Thankfully, I don’t smoke these days, but I don’t carry any resentment towards Marlboros or cigarette advertising in general. I chose to partake. Cigarettes probably checked my stress levels enough to have thwarted bouts of teen and post-teen angst that could have gotten me in big trouble. They mellowed me out and that was a good thing. I just don’t need them anymore. If that need ever arises again, I know exactly what I’ll be smoking—Marlboro Lights, what else?