Clever Marketing From Marlboro

Smoking is bad. Even most smokers will agree that it’s expensive and has a range of negatives even aside from the massive increases in health risks. That includes everything from nicotine stained skin to the potentially risk of setting your own hair alight during a student event at a nightclub in Hull. While the last example may have just applied to me in the 1990s, generally most people have been in favour of increased restrictions on cigarette sales, advertising and marketing.

But the flip side is that it has forced cigarette promotions to become more interesting and innovative. The strong, iconic branding allowed variations on brand names to get around new rules on sports sponsorship. For instance, the Jordan F1 team was sponsored by Benson & Hedges for around 10 years, but switched to variations including Bitten & Hisses, Buzzin Hornets and Be On Edge where cigarette sponsorship was banned.

There are also plenty of examples of product placement, including paying stars like Silvester Stallone directly to use particular products in films. And books like Buyology by Martin Lindstrom suggested how brand associations like cowboys, camels and less obvious examples including colours etc can trigger us into craving a cigarette as much, if not more, than a direct advert would have done.

Which is why I admire the skill of those promoting smoking, and look to learn from them to better promote less harmful products (We work with a wide range of brands, but have turned down offers from companies we believe offer products or services which aren’t beneficial to customers).


Clever Marketing From Marlboro

A new law was passed in the UK in 2016. From May 2016, all cigarette packets will be a standard green colour, logos will be prohibited, menthols are being banned, and 10-packs of cigarettes have also been withdrawn. But there has been a year’s grace period for companies to adjust and sell old stock.

So in reality it means we’re going to see branding and packets of 10 cigarettes disappear from shelves by May 2017. And that’s why I have to admit some admiration for what Marlboro has done when I visited the shops…

Clever Marketing From Marlboro. 10 pack tin packaging

It looks like a normal packet of 10 Marlboro Lights and costs the same as it did last week. But rather than being the standard cardboard packaging, it’s a durable tin packet.

And I suspect many of the marketers reading this will have already guessed why.

From May, the company will lose all their iconic branding. And anyone who previously bought a pack of 10 might well give up, rather than double their daily expenditure on a packet of 20. For instance, when I’ve cut down by smoking before eventually quitting, I found buying a pack of 10 meant I definitely tried to make them last longer.

Without that option though, I might have just gone cold turkey.

So now they’ve taken a probably marginal hit in their profits in the short-term to provide smokers with a way to continue to share their branding, and to potentially still provide that 10-pack limit.

And while for many it’s an addiction with well-known health risks, most smokers will still feel slightly cooler taking out a branded Marlboro tin and refilling it from the non-branded packs than having to take out a dull green pack with a large diseased lung on it.


Marketing Under Restrictions Promotes Creativity:

Would Marlboro have done something like this to promote their brand without the upcoming regulations and bans? I highly doubt it.

I’d imagine most people reading this don’t have an unlimited budget or freedom. But if you did, the danger is that you’d simply pile much more money into doing the same things. And you’d have no incentive to optimise your Adwords spend or paid Facebook content if you could just double the budget instead.

Whereas the most creative marketing often comes from constraints. Whether that’s from laws, budgets or other restrictions, it’s something that can result in far more interest and impact. I’ve just been reading ‘Things A Little Bird Told Me‘ by Biz Stone, and in it, he talks about his time designing book covers. When a brief insisted a particular photo had to be used, other designers would avoid taking that work. Instead, Biz Stone would rush to grab that job, take the photo, and then do something like blow it up 2000 times to use the massively pixellated version.

Employees are often advised ‘Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions’.

Perhaps our marketing motto should be ‘Don’t complain about constraints, bring me creative innovations’?

Misunderstanding cigarette branding…

The UK Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley has suggested cigarettes should be sold in plain packaging, as ‘the evidence is clear that packaging helps to recruit smokers’.

Sadly for those who want to prevent smoking, he appears to be talking cobblers – as suggested by the fact the previous Government ditched the same plan two years ago due to a lack of evidence to that effect.

What’s happened is that there’s a misunderstanding of the role of branding in cigarette smokers.

  • People encourage other people to start smoking.
  • Branding and People influence which particular product someone smokes.

Removing branding won’t make any difference to the amount of people trying smoking. It might make a difference in the number of cigarette companies, but the spread of cigarette smoking is largely spread by encountering other people that smoke and being influenced by them in some way. There’s a handy chapter in The Tipping Point on the triggers for smoking, quoting examples of being influenced by people who were seen as cool, and also smoked. The basic hypothesis is that some people who smoke happen to be cool, and therefore smoking is perceived as cool (Rather than smoking making someone cool – the reality is that it makes people smell of tobacco, wheeze when they’re running, and end up dying earlier more often than if they hadn’t smoked – but as a smoker for over 10 years, I already know this).

Cigarette by SuperFantastic on Flickr (CC Licence)

So why do tobacco companies spend so much on marketing, and finding ways to place their brands in your eye, despite cigarette advertising bans?

The first cigarette I ever tried was a Silk Cut Ultra Light – and yet for 10 years I’ve smoked Marlboro. I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that Ayrton Senna drove a Marlboro McLaren, Wayne Rainey rode a Marlboro Yamaha, and I actually suffered through the feature film ‘Harley-Davidson and the Marlboro Man‘. Given the choice, I’ll pay a slight premium for the familiar taste and amount of nicotine, plus the branding and image etc. But if that brand vanished tomorrow, I’d find another one in the time it took to run out of cigarettes. The fact is that in the past I’ve bought John Player Specials (JPS Lotus, JPS Norton), and Rothmans (Rothman Honda in the Wayne Gardner era) as fall-backs which have no relation in taste or nicotine levels.

Wayne Rainey driving out of turn 3 at the 1990...

Image via Wikipedia

I’d reveal a more effective way to tackle smoking, but unfortunately there’s a limit to how long I can write about the topic without nipping outside for a cigarette…