Written by Stefanie Kilts

The History of the Marlboro Man

The History of the Marlboro Man by Stefanie Kilts

'The most powerful brand image of the century, the Marlboro Man stands worldwide as the ultimate American cowboy and masculine trademark, helping establish Marlboro as the best-selling cigarette in the world.' - Advertising Age
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Photo by Norm Clasen

Philip Morris & Co. created the Marlboro brand in 1924. Originally a women’s cigarette that went by the name of “Mild as May,” Philip Morris decided to introduce filters to the brand in the 1950s and needed to shift the brand away from its feminine image.

The task of rebranding was given to advertising extraordinaire Leo Burnett and his Chicago-based advertising agency. On his farm south of Chicago in December 1954, the idea of the “Marlboro Man” was born.

'What is the most masculine figure in America?' Burnett asked the group of creative people he had summoned to the country on a Saturday morning. The answers came back, 'cab driver,' 'sailor,' and so on, none of which were agreed on by the group. But all heads nodded when someone said, 'cowboy.' - Jim Carrier from 'In Search of the Marlboro Man'

Although many Marlboro Men were tested, the cowboy proved to be the most popular among readers and stood as a symbol of freedom, masculinity and ruggedness. Marlboro took pain-staking care to create authentic scenes for the Marlboro ads, using only real cowboys, rodeo riders and stuntmen for models and shooting on real ranches in various locations in the West.

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'Marlboro Country.' Taken sometime in 1961.

Location: National Museum of American History Archives Center Collection 198

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'You get a lot to like with a Marlboro.' Taken sometime in 1960.

Location: National Museum of American History Archives Center Collection 198

By the time the Marlboro Man went national in 1955, sales were at $5 billion, a 3,241% jump over 1954. In 1972, Marlboro became the No. 1 tobacco brand in the world.

The Marlboro campaigns ran from the 1950s to the 1990s but ended when the 1998 Master Settlement forbade tobacco companies to use humans or cartoons on tobacco advertising in the U.S. The Marlboro Man ads continue in international markets.

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Photo by Norm Clasen