Marlboro cigarettes are synonymous with the rugged figure who sells them: the Marlboro Man. But the cigarette he smokes was originally marketed to women, and its journey from the lips of debutantes to the hands of cowboys takes us from first-wave feminism to the frontier of advertising. PLUS: Did Lucky Strike make the color green cool? And how did Marlboro find ways to market cigarettes despite increased regulations? We cover it all in BTYB Uncut.
Produced by Julia Press and Sarah Wyman, with Charlie Herman.
- Vintage ads show the hidden legacy of the Marlboro Man. The brand first became popular as a women’s cigarette.
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CHARLIE HERMAN: Smoking kills. I know that. You know that. And in case we forget, cigarette boxes have big warnings slapped on them to remind us that “smoking is bad for your health.”
So that’s presented a challenge for tobacco companies which are severely limited in how they market cigarettes, especially when it comes to kids, which is a good thing. (I’m lookin’ at you Joe Camel.)
Yet despite the restrictions and health warnings, one cigarette has so saturated our collective subconscious that even if you have never, ever been tempted to smoke, just hearing the name brings an image to mind: Marlboro.
MARLBORO AD: Now and then, no matter who is or what he does, a man’s gotta get away by himself.
CH: He’s this burly, all-American cowboy, who lives off the land and fends for himself.
MARLBORO AD: You don’t see many wild stallions anymore…
CH: Personally, I never saw these ads growing up, because after 1971, cigarette ads were banned on TV and radio. But I still know them because that cowboy became synonymous with the brand. He’s a strapping frontiersman, with a weather-beaten face, galloping on his horse across the plains, or he’s fishing, or herding animals. And in the background, you hear that soaring music composed by Elmer Bernstein for the classic Western, “The Magnificent Seven.”
MARLBORO AD: Come to where the flavor is. Come to Marlboro Country.
MARLBORO AD: Listen: the thunder of the herd. The quiet of the sky. The whisper of a tumbleweed rollin’ by.
CH: But that cigarette he’s got in his mouth, the cigarette he made famous, that cigarette… it was actually designed for women.
From Business Insider, this is Brought to you by… Brands you know, stories you don’t. I’m Charlie Herman.
A cigarette we associate with the macho, loner cowboy of the frontier was originally made for women.
How did it make the move from the well-manicured hands of socialites to the gruff, calloused fingers of the Marlboro Man? And how did Marlboro go from a no-name brand to the number one selling cigarette in America? Wild horses didn’t hurt.
Stay with us.
CH: Before the Marlboro Man — before the Marlboro woman even — women didn’t really smoke. In fact, in some places, it was even illegal.
To help me tell that story, I roped Aria Bendix into the studio with me.
CH: Alrighty! It gets nice and toasty in here as well too, so…
ARIA BENDIX: Cool. (laughs)
CH: Aria’s a reporter at Business Insider who’s covered the history of smoking… and Marlboro.
CH: Why don’t we start at the turn of the century. What was the association that existed between women and smoking?
AB: So, there was a strong negative association between women and smoking. It was not something that a polite woman did. There was a lot of societal disapproval, that was definitely the big thing. But there was also a few legal attempts to prohibit women from smoking in public. In 1904, there was a woman who was actually turned in by her husband for smoking in the presence of her children, and she faced 30 days of jail time for that. And then, a few years later, there was actually a short-lived ban in New York City that prohibited women from smoking in public.
CH: So, it really was, smoking was really seen as not a thing that a lady, a well-raised woman would do?
AB: Yeah, a woman of good moral standing.
CH: So then, what changed?
AB: So, what changed was World War I.
NEWSREEL: Inside the White House, President Woodrow Wilson conferred with advisors and signed the proclamation of war against Germany.
AB: And that was really when women started to take on, actually enter the workforce for the first time and take on jobs that were traditionally associated with men.
NEWSREEL: It is said that behind every man there is a woman, and America’s women were. Daintily, but mightily…
AB: And then, they also changed their appearance to reflect that. So, women started to have shorter hair, started to wear pants. And then, they also started to pick up cigarettes.
CH: By 1920, American women had won the right to vote. But even within the feminist movement, for some, smoking was taboo. Some of the activists for women’s rights actually went to great lengths to distance themselves from women who smoked. Lucy Page Gaston, for example, was a vocal opponent of smoking and drinking alcohol. She wasn’t trying to ally herself with women who were redefining femininity. Instead, she wanted to empower women who embodied the old, Victorian ideals of womanhood. Who would use their vote to advocate for temperance and respectability, and enforce their high moral standards on the broader population.
CH: So where does the story of Marlboro start?
AB: So it starts with Philip Morris, which used to be a British tobacco company. And in the 1920s, they really wanted to get a stronger foothold in the US market. So they came up with the idea of the Marlboro brand, and in 1924, they introduced it as a cigarette brand for women.
CH: 1924 was a really tough time for a newcomer to be making a play for the US cigarette market at all—never mind marketing to women. That’s because it was already pretty locked down by four big tobacco companies. Actually, there used to be one gigantic company—a monopoly—until the US Supreme Court and a bunch of trust-busting congressmen put a stop to that in the 19-teens.
Anyway, by the 1920s, Marlboro was this small fish making its debut in—I’m just gonna go with this—pond full of great white sharks. So, it set its sights on the other small fish in the cigarette pond: women. And since suffragists like Lucy Page Gaston were not going to “light up” any time soon, Marlboro had to find another way to make smoking, socially acceptable for women. It had to make cigarettes — which many saw as symbols of vulgarity and promiscuity — actually feminine, by Victorian standards.
AB: So, one of the first advertisements that they came out with was this, “Mild as May,” campaign.
CH: May, like the month of May. Delicate, breezy…
AB: Dainty, elegant, refined, polite.
CH: And there’s something amazing about how Marlboro sends that message through these ads. Like, if you look at them, the women pictured aren’t even smoking. But it almost doesn’t matter because they look so glamorous.
AB: Every one of them sort of had like this dark lip, this perfectly coiffed hair, the cigarette was sort of daintily hanging off of their fingertips, looking a little bit seductive, but it was also somewhat reminiscent of the Victorian ideals of femininity that was sort of carrying us into the 1920s, so you see this sort of stereotype of a lady.
CH: Of a very elegant woman?
AB: Mm-hmm. The Marlboro woman was basically the modern-day equivalent of an Instagram influencer. I mean she’s everything that women sort of wanted and aspired to be.
CH: “Mild as May” was everything a woman could want in a cigarette. The ads made it look like an essential accessory, as natural in a woman’s hand as the lipstick on her lips.
AB: There was a lot of concern that women’s lipstick would actually get at the end of their cigarette. So, what they did was actually create a grease-proof tip that would prevent that and it would keep your lipstick looking nice while you were smoking. After that, they also introduced a red rim around the cigarette, and that was meant to disguise the lipstick itself.
CH: We are miles away from the Marlboro Man here.
But even as Marlboro and its parent company Philip Morris continued to work on making its cigarette look appealing to women, it had a bigger obstacle to tackle. Most women did not know how to smoke! So, Philip Morris sponsored a lecture series that toured the country and taught women the basics. It hit ladies’ clubs, charm schools, department stores, and nurses’ lounges… covering etiquette, how to open the packages, avoid lipstick smears, and prevent fires—oh my god. And slowly but surely, Marlboro’s efforts started to make inroads.
AB: So the advertisements are resonating with women, Marlboro’s getting letters from women thanking them for the ads, more women are starting to pick up smoking, but it’s actually not doing much for the brand itself. It was pretty much failing as a business. (laughs)They were capturing a minuscule portion of the cigarette market at that time.
CH: Turns out, Marlboro wasn’t the only cigarette company on the block with the bright idea of advertising to women. In fact, the American Tobacco Company—one of the four giants which used to have a monopoly on cigarettes—it wanted to get women to smoke just as badly as Marlboro did. And its main brand, Lucky Strike, was a much bigger name than Marlboro.
AB: The president of the American Tobacco Company poured about $1.5 billion in today’s dollars into advertisements in the first decade of the Lucky Strike advertisements. So, they were funneling money into the brand, and that’s sort of reflected in its sales. They were sort of catering to everyone, and they saw the same opportunity that Marlboro did, that they weren’t actually targeting their advertisements to half of the population, which was women. So, they put out a lot of the same messaging that Marlboro did, a lot of that same like feminine ideals of beauty. They weren’t a woman’s cigarette brand, but they certainly began catering their advertisements to women.
CH: By 1929, both companies had been running ads featuring women for years. Marlboro had even gone so far as to show a woman in one of its advertisements actually smoking a cigarette, not just holding it seductively. But even that wasn’t enough. So, to break through the negative bias surrounding women and cigarettes once and for all, the American Tobacco Company launched another offensive and this one would blow the politics of women smoking wide open.
AB: The president of the American Tobacco Company calls up this guy Edward Bernays and he’s now known as the father of public relations and he was actually, fun fact, the nephew of Sigmund Freud, and so Bernays comes up with this idea to stage a protest in New York City. He recruits all these debutantes who sort of look like the everyday woman, but they’re also super super elegant and he gets them to basically march through the streets of New York City on the Easter Day Parade carrying lit cigarettes in their hand. And he called them the Torches of Freedom. So, cigarettes were known as the torches of freedom.
CH: The Easter Parade was one of the most important events on New York City’s social calendar. Women were there to be seen—they wore the newest fashions, their boldest hats, and strutted down Fifth Avenue like it was a runway. It was such a cultural touchstone, the American composer Irving Berlin even wrote a song about it, and it became the basis for a 1933 Judy Garland-Fred Astaire movie.
EASTER PARADE: You’ll be the grandest fellow in the Easter Parade.
CH: Anyway, crashing this event was a big deal. And the torches of freedom, the women marching down Fifth Avenue in their finery carrying lit cigarettes… that image caught fire.
AB: It was a huge news story, and it kicked off the idea of women smoking in public.
AB: Yeah. I mean I see it as the fulcrum to change the social tide. Women in other cities as well, not just New York City, but now San Francisco and Detroit, were now taking the streets and smoking their own cigarettes.
CH: Their torches of freedom?
AB: They had their own torches of freedom.
CH: This was the moment cigarette companies had been waiting for. By marching with “torches of freedom” in hand, the debutantes in New York City gave other women permission to smoke boldly and publicly too. And as public smoking became more accepted, Hollywood hopped on the bandwagon by showing actresses smoking on the silver screen.
AB: I think of the film “Now Voyager” in 1942…
PAUL HENREID: I wish I understood you.
BETTE DAVIS: Since we just met this morning, how could you possibly?
AB: Bette Davis with her lit cigarette in her hand. She was known for smoking both on and off screen. But in that film, the cigarette was really a strong plot device.
AB: I mean, it was the way for her to sort of leave her family home. It was the way to introduce her to her romantic interest in the film.
CH: Because she leaves the family home and becomes independent? Smoking is really connected to freedom and independence?
AR: Oh absolutely. Yes. And then, at the end of the film, no spoilers, they have to solve a question among the two main characters, and they basically are like, ‘Okay, should we solve it over a cigarette?’ And that’s what they do.
PH: Shall we just have a cigarette on it?
AB: It’s a point of romantic connection, conflict resolution, freedom. We see that also in 1944 with the film “To Have and Have Not,” with Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart. There’s a fantastic scene in that movie where Bogart walks into the room. He turns around, he sees Bacall standing in the doorway.
LAUREN BACALL: Anybody got a match?
AB: She asks him for a match and he sort of throws it at her. And she lights up all seductively in the doorway, and then throws the match over her shoulder and walks out.
AB: Super sexy, but also has a lot of agency in that scene.
CH: So, women are smoking in movies, really glamorous celebrities are smoking, it’s becoming more socially acceptable, Marlboro has been targeting women for several years now, how are they doing?
AB: Their sales were still pretty dismal. In 1954, they had only captured about a quarter of 1% of the market. So, it was pretty embarrassing for them, and then something dramatic happens. Just one year later, their sales shoot up by more than 3,000%.
CH: And what happened?
AB: The Marlboro Man happened.
CH: That’s after the break.
CH: We’re back.
Over the course of the 1920s and 30s, cigarette advertising — and one really bold publicity stunt — totally reversed the public’s perception of women smoking. But Marlboro still wasn’t selling cigarettes. That is, until 1955, when, in the span of just one year, Marlboro’s sales suddenly shot up by over 3000%.
CH: What happened?
ARIA: So science happened. In the 1950s, there was a host of research, scientific article after scientific article coming out saying that smoking actually was linked to lung cancer in men, surprise, surprise.
BRITANNICA FILM: Experiments with mice are being conducted in several universities. Scientists suspect that certain constituents in the smoke, may cause cancer in the respiratory tract, especially in the lungs of smokers.
AB: The science wasn’t definitive at that time. So, they’re… in the same article, in the same paper, there might be one scientist saying that smoking was bad for you —
BRITANNICA FILM: There seems to be considerable agreement about the effect of smoking on the human organism.
AB: And another other saying that they couldn’t reach a definitive conclusion.
BRITANNICA FILM: Research in this area is relatively new.
CH: So, how did the public respond?
AB: There was widespread panic among men because all of a sudden, they realized that something that they were doing every single day could be killing them. I mean, it’s like learning that your toothpaste could be killing you.
CH: By the late 1950s, tobacco shares on the stock market were taking a hit. Cigarette companies started to worry that public concerns about smoking would outlast the news cycle. That the studies linking cigarettes and cancer couldn’t just be tapped away like so many cigarette ashes.
AB: So, the cigarette companies responded by launching a “healthier” cigarette, which was the filtered cigarette.
CH: Because the belief that filtered would be healthier for people, it would suck out the bad chemicals?
AB: Yeah, all those harmful substances like tar and nicotine would sort of get filtered out you’d have a much purer product at the end of it.
CH: And is that actually the case?
AB: That’s absolutely not the case. The science is complicated but, filtered cigarettes have also been linked to lung cancer. So they’re no get out of jail free card.
CH: Filtered cigarettes had been on the market for years, but at this point—in the early ’50s—they made up just a tiny fraction of it, only three percent! It would have never occurred to most men to pick up a filter tipped cigarette as a way of getting around the whole lung cancer thing. But that’s exactly how some cigarette companies started selling them.
KENT AD: For the best combination of filter and good taste, Kent! Satisfies best!
KENT AD: Kent with the micronite filter is smoked by more scientists, more educators, than any other cigarette.
AB: They marketed these cigarettes as you know, ‘just what the doctor ordered,’ ‘the first truly new smoking advance in over 40 years.’ It was this big push to tell people they were healthy.
KENT AD: Of all leading filtered cigarettes, Kent filters best. It makes good sense to smoke Kent, and good smoking too.
CH: For Marlboro, all this chaos presented an interesting opportunity. Remember, it had been languishing at the bottom of the cigarette market for years, failing even to dominate the women’s sector. So, when the news about smoking and lung cancer hit, Marlboro didn’t have much to lose by pivoting to filtered cigarettes. Where other brands had to worry about staying true to their image and holding onto market share, Marlboro was free to cut itself loose from its old brand and try and stake out a new niche in the big leagues.
But first, it had to work through one big problem:
AB: Filtered cigarettes were seen as sort of sissy cigarettes and certainly men didn’t want to smoke them, because filtered cigarettes were associated with women.
WINSTON AD: Me and my Winstons, me and my Winstons, we’ve got a real good thing…
CH: The thought was that by filtering out some of the bad stuff, filtered cigarettes also lost some of the raw, gritty cigarette flavor. They were weaker, and thus fit for women, who couldn’t handle the full force of a good smoke. Ah, the 1950s.
WINSTON AD: Because my Winstons taste good like a cigarette should.
CH: If Marlboro wanted to sell filtered cigarettes to men, it would need to fight this perception. And even worse, it had just spent the last 30 years branding itself as a ladies’ cigarette.
AB: So they knew they needed to distance themselves from the idea of their brand being a feminine one. So they went the exact opposite. They introduced the defining campaign of their brand…dun duh duh the Marlboro Man. (laughs)
MARLBORO AD: This is a man who smokes Marlboro cigarettes.
CH: In 1954, Marlboro launched its brand new, filtered cigarette. And helming the rebrand was the Leo Burnett advertising agency. These days, you might know it by its power-hitting roster of mascots: Tony the Tiger… the Pillsbury Doughboy… There will be future episodes.
Anyway, the new Marlboro cigarette needed to be smoked by a manly man. The kind of guy who wouldn’t compromise on flavor. Who was the picture of health and invincibility. So, Leo Burnett focus grouped a couple of different options:
AB: They started with the one we know best today, which is the cowboy but they also tried a few others, um really, really macho guys. They wanted to see what would resonate with the public. Was it pro golfers or football players…
MARLBORO AD: Meet one of the most spectacular runners in pro football. You set your own style in running, Jon.
JON ARNETT: Thanks! And Marlboro sure set a style in smoking.
AB: Was it the navy man? Was it the construction worker?
CH: This kind of feels like the village people of the 1950s for cigarettes.
AB: It does! So, one of the first commercials we see is this everyday Joe tinkering over his vehicle…
MARLBORO AD: I’m a guy who likes to work on my car. I like to take it apart and put it back together.
CH: So, we see this cigarette kind of dangling from his mouth, but it’s not really focused on the product. We don’t hear a discussion about, ‘These are mild cigarettes and they won’t hurt your throat. And…’
AB: No. It’s like this dude can fix his own car.
CH: And he happens to smoke a cigarette.
MARLBORO AD: I always smoke when I work. They go together.
AB: I mean, It’s this idea of like rugged individualism that if you smoke Marlboros, you can do anything on your own. You don’t need government. You don’t need science. You know, you’re just a healthy dude.
CH: So, when does the cowboy, which seems to epitomize that, come into play?
AB: So, the cowboy was definitely the most popular archetype that they tested, and it was one of the first ideas that they came up with to begin with.
CH: Cue the music…
AB: Who rolls the plains, on horseback, with a cigarette in his hand. He got this cowboy hat. He’s usually pretty jacked, tan-skinned, little sweaty.
CH: Herding cattle—
AB: Herding cattle.
CH: Up a mountain while the music of “The Magnificent Seven” is playing in the background.
AB: Yeah. He’s like a Hollywood Western figure.
CH: The early Marlboro Men were actors, but by the late 1960s, they’d all been replaced by “real” cowboys. The ads felt authentic because they were built around what Marlboro and Leo Burnett called “real working men.”
MARLBORO AD: This man likes tending his hungry horses. Then, having himself a Marlboro.
CH: And that image was so powerful that even when cigarette ads were banned from TV and radio in 1971…
AB: The image of the Marlboro Man was so successful that it translated into print advertisements as well.
CH: I think I remember some ads that are literally just a picture of a beautiful photo of the countryside or of mountains and it would just say “Marlboro Country,” and no cigarette anywhere in the ad at all.
AB: Yeah. They were really simple advertisements but they were brilliant, because every time you saw this figure, you sort of knew who it was.
CHARLIE: And how successful was the campaign?
AB: By 1972 Marlboro was the number one cigarette brand in the world. So it really skyrocketed the brand to a new height.
CH: Why do you think this campaign struck such a chord with American men?
AB: I think men saw themselves in the Marlboro Man, but I also think men wanted to be the Marlboro Man. I mean at that time, this was everything that masculinity was supposed to be, I mean, he was handsome. He was burly. He was self-sufficient. He was a rugged individualist. But he was also a little bit of that anti-government sentiment, he didn’t need anybody. He could just sort of figure things out on his own. He didn’t need to rely on anyone and I think that was a really attractive sentiment especially when you go into the ’60s and ’70s.
CH: The Marlboro Man campaign harnessed the same values the brand had been playing with in the 1920s and ’30s: independence. Smokers taking back their rights and paving their own way in life. But the huge difference between the Marlboro Man and the Marlboro Woman before him is that his ads actually worked. They turned Marlboro into a household name. They sold cigarettes by the billions. And for Aria, there’s something frustrating about that.
AB: I think the Marlboro Woman got a bad break. I mean, people really forgot about her in history, but she was an important part of setting the stage for the Marlboro Man later on. I mean I think this idea of this transcending social mores, of striking it out on your own, of achieving autonomy that you hadn’t previously had. I mean, that was the Marlboro Woman. And that’s where I think it’s important to recognize that the Marlboro Woman did sort of allow them to test out whether the idea of liberation, autonomy, whether that worked in the American market, and it did. It just didn’t work well enough until they introduced it to men.
CH: The image of the Marlboro Man has permeated our culture to such an extent that all these years later, we still publish news articles when former Marlboro Men die. Just a few months ago, Aria wrote a story for Business Insider when Robert Norris, the first rancher to play the role, passed away.
And even though Marlboro’s heyday is long past—only 14% of adults in the U.S. smoke these days—the Marlboro Man is still omnipresent in American culture.
BILLY RAY CYRUS: Got no stress I’ve been through all that, I’m like a Marlboro man so I kick on back…
CH: There he is, in Billboard’s longest-running number one song of all time. Old Town Road. It even beat Despacito, I mean, come on!
LIL NAS X: Yeah, I’m gonna take my horse to the Old Town Road…
CH: And then, a personal favorite of mine, because there is an episode of Seinfeld for everything… there’s that time Kramer gets his face photoshopped onto what looks a lot like a Marlboro Man billboard:
ATTORNEY: No money? Then what did we get?
KRAMER: Check it out.
CH: There, in the middle of Times Square, it’s Kramer’s face superimposed on a twenty foot tall cowboy.
And of course, like all culturally-relevant brands, the Marlboro Man has been lambasted by John Oliver:
JOHN OLIVER: I present to you the new face of Marlboro, Jeff the diseased lung in a cowboy hat.
CH: It’s amazing to me that we’re still talking about the Marlboro Man. That this brand has found a way to stay part of the conversation, even when its sales aren’t up. And this, more even than selling cigarettes, is what Marlboro has always excelled at.
AB: The legacy is I mean, this is the paradigm of good advertising. It’s capitalizing on social trends, recognizing where the culture is going, and being able to get there first. And that’s what Marlboro really did.
CH: But wait, there’s more! After the break, I learn how smoking made the color green cool, how cigarette companies are promoting vaping and… I share a little secret of my own. It’s Brought to you by… Uncut.
CH: And we’re back. And joining me in the studio is Aria Bendix.
AB: Hello, I’m here.
CH: And producers Sarah Wyman,
SARAH WYMAN: Also here.
CH: And Julia Press.
JULIA PRESS: Present!
CH: Very often when we make these episodes, we come across nuggets of information that are remarkable or funny or surprising! Buuuuut… they don’t make it into the final cut of the episode.
SW: Because they’re “distracting.”
CH: But they’re really interesting and we can’t help ourselves.We just have to share these stories with you in a segment we call “Uncut.” And up first, Sarah, Julia, you have more information about Lucky Strike cigarettes?
SW: We do, and honestly there was so much wacky backstory about Lucky Strike we absolutely could have made a full episode about just that alone.
JP: Yeah we actually might have to one day.
SW: (laughs) But in the spirit of uncut, we’ve limited ourselves to just two stories right now.
JP: So, first up, a little bit more context about this torches of freedom parade… because we just barely scratched the surface in the episode.
CH: I’m hoping you’re gonna tell me they walked down the street, holding the torch above their head, the cigarette above their head like it was the Statue of Liberty.
SW: I mean that is truly only the half of it. (laughs) So the place to start is with this guy Edward Bernays, who just as a reminder, father of public relations, Sigmund Freud’s nephew.
JP: So after he decides that he’s gonna turn the NYC Easter Parade on Fifth Avenue into this huge publicity stunt, Bernays starts scouting for debutantes to hawk the cigarettes.
SW: He sends a memo to his friend who works at Vogue and asks her to help him assemble a list of 30 eligible women who are out in society.
JP: And then on Good Friday, before Easter Sunday, they all meet up at Bernays’ office and they’re distributed out packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes. So then when Easter Sunday rolls around, they bring those packs of cigarettes—the “party favors” from the good Friday meeting—to a bunch of pre-selected churches on the Easter Parade route. And then one by one, they join the parade with these torches of freedom lit.
SW: À la the Statue of Liberty as you’ve observed, Charlie.
CH: And they crashed basically the Easter Parade to do this!
SW: Yeah and the hilarious part is there weren’t actually that many of them. Like Bernays and his team had reached out to 30 debutantes but not everyone wanted to participate, so even though this was photographed and written about in the press and went on to like have this huge ripple effect on how people saw women smoking in public, it was like 13 gals out taking a walk on a Sunday.
JP: Okay, and all this craziness brings us to Lucky Strike story #2 in which—if you ask me—Bernays really outdoes himself.
SW: So, in 1934, just a couple of years after the torches of freedom, the president of the American Tobacco Company, so this guy who’s obsessed with selling Lucky Strikes to anyone he can, he gets this idea in his head that women aren’t buying Lucky Strikes because of the color green.
CH: The color green. What does Lucky Strike have to do with the color green?
JP: The packaging is green and they’re worried that the packs of Lucky Strike cigarettes just would clash with women’s outfits.
SW: So Bernays remembers being called into the president’s office and the president basically tells him like, ‘Go forth, make green cool.’ And Bernays writes that “this was the beginning of a fascinating six month activity for me: to make green the fashionable color.”
JP: So he hits the ground running. He starts sponsoring fundraising balls where the invitees are all asked to wear green gowns.
SW: And of course they’re fed green food—
JP: We’ve got green beans, we have asparagus, we have pistachio mousse.
CH: Who doesn’t love green beans?
AB: And pistachio mousse. [laughter]
JP: They even bring in artists and psychologists to talk about the psychological implications of the color green and the history of green in art.
SW: They’re pitching these big fashion houses on the color green, encouraging them to create collections for fall that are gonna use the color.
CH: And this is all to get women to like the color green so when they see a pack of Lucky Strikes they’ll think, ‘I want that too?’
SW: Look they’re trying to make the Lucky Strike pack the perfect accessory to every outfit, right? Like no look is complete—
CH: Purse in one hand, cigarettes in the other.
AB: So did it work?
JP: Maybe? I mean people were definitely wearing green in the 1930s, that’s when military style became popular, but it’s unclear how much of that actually had to do with this whole campaign to make green the color of the day.
CH: So that’s a tour of Lucky Strikes and their attempt to get women to smoke, but I think I’ve got a story actually that’s gonna make you a little green with envy if I may say.
JP: Oh boy.
CH: Oh boy. So this is a story that picks up after the success of the Marlboro Man, so we’re getting into the 1980s and the 1990s and as Aria told us, Marlboro has become the dominant brand when it comes to cigarettes. But there are two issues that start to happen. The first is that Marlboros are actually kind of expensive, they cost about a dollar more than generic cigarettes.
SW: Oh my gosh, and if you’re a chain smoker, that’s adding up (laughs).
CH: That adds up to a lot of money if you’re smoking a pack a day and for the first time really, smokers start turning to these lower priced cigarettes, so they’ve got an issue there with the price. And then they also have the problem with the fact that we’re going into the ’80s and ’90s and there is a decline in smoking, in you know 1965, about 42% of people smoked and by 1993, it was around 25%. So they had two responses. The first was that they cut prices, that was really dramatic. And the second was that they created a program that lasted for many years that was called the Marlboro Adventure Team. And I know a lot about it because…I was a member.
SW: You were part of the Marlboro Adventure Team?
CH: Well sort of—
JP: A Marlboro Man yourself?
CH: I, yeah maybe. So confession time: yes I did smoke for many years, throughout most of the ’90s and my brand was Marlboro Lites. And I’m happy to say I quit in 1999, 20 years ago—
SW: Yay! [applause]
CH: But the Marlboro Adventure Team was this thing that you could get swag in return for sending in UPC codes on the sides of packages, that’s the barcode on the side of a cigarette box.
SW: So what kind of swag are we talking here Charlie?
CH: So, if you collected say about 100 miles you could get a baseball cap with Marlboro on it. And by the way, do the math, that is 20 packs of cigarettes. But some of the other things were even higher priced, there was a cast-iron skillet, there was a cowboy hat, there was a barbecue set, there was a tent, there were all these things that were kinda connected to again the Marlboro Man, the outdoors.
JP: So did you get anything with your miles?
CH: I did, I got a lot actually.
JP: Tell us more!
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CH: I got the Marlboro barn coat, I’m 99% sure I got that, I don’t have that one anymore.
SW: To wear when you went and brushed your horse, your steed.
AB: Was it green? [laughter]
CH: It was not green, it was a very manly khaki color if I recall. I got a very durable duffle bag which I still have with me somewhere, and I also got a Swiss Army watch which is still working to this day, just needs a new battery every so often and a new watch band, it’s kept time quite well I’m quite happy with it. But this whole program is a way for Marlboro to try and find new audiences as they can’t do television and radio ads anymore. They’re playing this sort of cat and mouse game in the 1990s with regulators who are trying to crack down on the type of ads that the companies are doing and at the same time Marlboro is trying to increase sales and it’s working.
SW: There’s also something so delightful though about the thought that even though the Marlboro Man is this solitary, gruff cowboy, you, Charlie, can be a Marlboro Bro, you know, part of this like national squad that’s —
CH: Well you get to be part of it, I mean not only are you smoking the cigarette and maybe intellectually there’s something connecting in there but you can then start collecting the gear that the Marlboro Man would have, even if at the time I was living in Washington, DC in a basement apartment. But I too had the Marlboro watch and the Marlboro duffle bag.
AB: I mean this is a cute program, but it’s also kind of scary because it’s basically rewarding the amount of boxes that you’re purchasing.
CH: It’s rewarding the amount of cigarettes you smoke, it is, yeah, no, it was a way of encouraging you to smoke. But Aria, it’s your turn now, and you came with a story to tell us as well, I believe? So, come on, bring it home.
AB: Ok so I write a lot about chemicals and toxins and how those are actually winding up in our household items, so nicotine would obviously qualify as one of those toxins. And if the Marlboro story reminded you of vaping, you would not be alone. Actually the FDA and the American Cancer Society have both expressed concerns about the fact that vapes come in these fun flavors, like creme brûlee, and mint, and bubblegum, and there’s some concern that those flavors are designed to attract younger smokers, specifically teenagers. In fact, many of these e-cigarette flavors are actually being banned by the FDA.
There’s also another concern. Experts on cigarette advertising have pointed out that vaping may be portrayed as a healthier alternative to smoking, and they’re seeing parallels between the way smoking was portrayed in advertising in the 1950s and the way vaping is being portrayed in advertising today. So this is just another example of advertisement swaying us in a certain direction. So, playing off of people’s fears about their own health, and presenting a new narrative. And now, we’re latching on to that again.
CH: And almost advertising getting ahead of something before we have definitive information.
AB: Yeah, absolutely. I mean, just as the Marlboro Man appeared at the time when the science wasn’t actually conclusive about smoking being related to lung cancer, the vape is being presented now at a time when we’re really not sure about its health effects.
CH: Aria, thank you very much.
AB: Thank you guys.
CH: And Sarah Wyman and Julia Press, thank you as well.
CH: So there you have it! Our first episode of 2020… and we are really excited about it, because we’ve got a lot more episodes coming in the weeks ahead.
From stories about the red scare … no, not that one….
M&M CLIP: At the time the ban was announced, everybody wanted to know whether red m&ms caused cancer.
CH: To the woman who changed forever how we celebrate special occasions…
VEUVE CLICQUOT CLIP: She goes from being unknown in the business world to a month later, everybody knowing in Europe who Madame Clicquot is, the Widow Clicquot is.
CH: And don’t forget, we love hearing from you: your thoughts about this episode or earlier ones, your connections to well-known brands, or which brands you want us to check out!
You can join our Facebook group – Brought to you by… Podcast. Or email us – our whole team gets very excited when we get emails from you – the address is email@example.com
This episode was produced by Julia Press and Sarah Wyman, with reporting from Aria Bendix. Our editor was Carolyn Dubol.
Special thanks this week to Robert Jackler and the Stanford Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising. And if you want to just like revel in ridiculousness, you should just spend a few minutes listening to these commercials from the ’50s and ’60s. They are a sight to behold and listen to. We have a link on our website and on the Facebook page.
Sound design is by Bill Moss, and the music from Audio Network. Casey Holford and John DeLore composed our theme. Sarah Wyman is our showrunner.
Brought to you by… is a production of Insider Audio.
FLINTSTONES: Ah, you like the Winston cigarettes huh, Mr. Flintstone?…
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