Misleading Man

Matt Kelley


Instructor: Josh Mehler

Misleading Man

Advertisements mislead and manipulate their audience for a variety of reasons. A strong argument can be made stating that cigarette companies are the leading offender when it comes to misleading advertisements. Marlboro in particular chooses to advertise in a misleading style, one in which targets a varying audience through both images and texts that become familiarized from the repetitive style of advertising Marlboro uses.

(Marlboro advertisement on a billboard)

Marlboro uses a common marketing technique to draw attention to their product by implementing a person that many people may wish to emulate. In this case, Marlboro chooses to use their now famous figure of a cowboy. By choosing this cowboy that appears to be rugged and macho, Marlboro attempts to persuade the viewer that by smoking their cigarettes they too will seem cool as the cowboy depicted in their advertisement. As the viewer sees this ad with the cowboy with cigarette in hand, they do not immediately associate the product with the possible health risks that may go along with smoking. In doing this Marlboro creates a very effective ad for a potentially deadly product. This effectiveness of being able to mislead the viewer leads to a successful advertisement because Marlboro is now able to treat their product just like any other company would and simply advertise the cigarettes using a person that may appear cool to the potential audience. The cowboy image that is portrayed effectively covers up the negative aspects of smoking by showing this healthy looking man working on a ranch while he presumably smokes Marlboro cigarettes. What this does is it demonstrates that not only does he smoke Marlboro cigarettes, but they appear not to be doing anything detrimental to his health, adding to the deception used in the advertisements. Along with drawing in consumers, the cowboy emanates a few values that the Marlboro company wants the viewer to believe are derived from smoking their cigarettes. One of the most obvious values is that of toughness, by showing this rugged cowboy using the company’s product, Marlboro is trying to convey that the cigarettes play a role in his toughness. That if the consumer smokes Marlboro they too will be presumed tough by others. Also adding to the values aspect of the ad is the value of simplicity, while having not much going on in the background and having the man casually leaning up against a barn or riding a horse while the sunsets, Marlboro is showing a laid back lifestyle that must go along with smoking. The image of the Marlboro cowboy covers up the negative side of smoking, but without something to promote the product the viewer would have no incentive to try Marlboros cigarettes over another brand. This is where the bold white text in the center of the ad over the cowboy promotes the product by stating “come to where the flavor is”, which informs the reader that Marlboro cigarettes are full of flavor and worth their price. This text is placed in the advertisement so as to provide support to the image, and give the product a positive side. Along with the image of a pack of cigarettes next to the text that shows the viewer exactly what the packaging of the product looks like. The audience for this Marlboro ad is another advantage for the company, as it is able to bridge across a wide demographic. This ad may appeal to women because they see a rugged looking cowboy and may be attracted to the brand in general because of him. Another possibility is that younger men who see this ad may view Marlboro cigarettes as a way to be more like this person in the ad. By spanning such a wide variety of an audience Marlboro has established their brand name with many people, giving the Marlboro cowboy his popular image he still holds today. Although the image of the cowboy is a prominent figure in the ad, the text seems to be more of an emphasis, as it is in a bold, vibrant, white font that immediately grabs the viewer’s attention. Having done this Marlboro presumably would rather have the reader view the slogan first then notice the cowboy with the cigarette. Further supporting this is, the subtleness of having the white cowboy hat in one of the images point towards the text, saying, look at the text first, then view then cowboy.  By having the text be the main focal point of their advertisement the last image the reader will notice then would be the cowboy, which is who Marlboro would like the reader to remember endorses their product. The overall tone of the ad is depicted as being serious and rugged, portrayed mostly by the image of the cowboy but also aided by the color scheme of the advertisement, which consists of natural, dull colors, such as brown and dark reds. This color scheme makes the ad even more effective because of the way the darker colors make the slogan stand out more as well as give it a sense of a serious tone by appearing to be of a no nonsense attitude suggested by the colors and overall attitude that the color scheme puts forth.

(Common Marlboro advertisement)

This example used is just one of many advertisements used by Marlboro that feature the same cowboy. The Marlboro advertisement campaign has, for decades used this “Marlboro Man” in attempts to persuade consumers to try Marlboro cigarettes. 1954 precisely was the year that Marlboro first began using the cowboy image in their ads because at the time, filtered cigarettes were commonly considered for women. This motivation for using the cowboy thus further provides evidence of the target audience Marlboro is focused on. By using this ad and drawing conclusions about the suggested audience, the ad is aiming for a young male demographic. Marlboro may be wanting to target towards the younger demographic because of the tendency for this group of consumers to be more easily persuaded into trying a new product. Marlboro, along with the image of the cowboy has used the phrase “Come to where the flavor is, come to Marlboro country”, this phrase accompanies almost all of Marlboro’s advertisements and is always is in the same font and the same color. Having this phrase always appearing in the same format in all of their advertisements has the consumer automatically associate the phrase and the image of the words with the Marlboro Company. By implanting this strategy of familiarization of phrases and images with the company, Marlboro is attempting to have their company become a common and recognizable brand, as well as the premier cigarette company. Another way the Marlboro cowboy has become a familiar figure is through his appearance and clothing in the advertisements. In the majority of the Marlboro ads, the cowboy is always wearing the same cloths and the same white hat making him instantly recognizable, even to those that do not smoke Marlboro cigarettes.

(Marlboro advertisement without the cowboy)

(Marlboro advertisement from 1967)

In the various advertisements for Marlboro that I have analyzed, I have yet to find one instance where the Marlboro cowboy is actually smoking the cigarettes. All of the images depict the cowboy with the phrase, but never with a lit cigarette in the act of smoking. Most of the ads he does have a cigarette in his mouth, and in some he is even depicted as in the process of lighting a cigarette, but not actually smoking. It would seem as though the Marlboro Company would want to show the cowboy actually smoking their cigarettes. Reasons behind this move by Marlboro vary, and there is no definitive answer as to why this style and approach to depicting the cowboy not actually smoking was used in the advertisements.

(“Marlboro Man”)

In the anti-advertisement for Marlboro, I would use the same elements that make the company familiar, but in a less favorable depiction. The main focus of the advertisement would be the Marlboro cowboy, not in his usual confident stance with a cigarette in his mouth, but sitting in a rocking chair on the front porch of an old looking ranch house in the process of coughing. Further enhancing the image of the now sickly cowboy would be an ashtray filled with cigarettes sitting in front of him on a ledge on the porch. This would show that the cigarettes were the main cause of the cowboy’s downfall. The cowboys outfit would remain the same but in a more worn and dirty look in order to help show the decline of his appearance from smoking. The overall appearance of the ad will have darker colors then the original ad to signify the cowboy’s demise and to illustrate the severity of his condition. The house itself will also play a role by conveying a tone of reflection and sorrow, broken windows and swirling dust bring a sense that he has not been able to keep up with the ranch due to his ailing health caused from the years of smoking cigarettes. To go along with the image of the cowboy the old phrase “come to where the flavor is, come to Marlboro country” will now read “come to where the flavor is, come to cancer country” demonstrating to the viewer that Marlboros old slogan was just another way to cover up and disguise their product. This inclusion of the phrase along with the image of the now ill cowboy would bring the instantly recognized Marlboro Company to mind, but upon a closer look the viewer will see that “Marlboro country” is not the same as it once was. By changing the slogan to something more serious and deadly such as cancer, the viewer will start to question the brand and how risky it really is to smoke. The slogan change, with the addition of the now ailing cowboy aid in showing that this really is what the Marlboro cowboy has become and what “Marlboro country” truly means. “Marlboro country” is additionally scrutinized by a small wooden sign over the front of the house that reads “Marlboro country”, though due to the neglect from the cowboy, the sign is now hanging from only one side and appears to be about to fall off. What this imagery does for the overall ad is, it demonstrates to the viewer a very real possibility that may result as an after effect from years of smoking. Marlboro, through the use of various forms of deception is able to market cigarettes to a broad audience using their image of the cowboy and the rugged landscape around him. What the anti-ad accomplishes is, it breaks down the various images and ideas that come from the original Marlboro advertisements and then turns them against the Marlboro Company. By doing this the anti-ad shows how smoking has affected each of the elements of the original ad over the years. This informs the reader of the true dangers of smoking and also exposes the techniques Marlboro uses to draw in its customers, and then turns Marlboros own images into tools to convey to the viewer how what is presented in the advertisements by Marlboro is attempting to conceal what the true effects of smoking are through the reversed images.

(“Marlboro Man” in action)

The original advertisement and anti-advertisement both attempt to convince their viewers of something, Marlboro is attempting to sell a product to the consumer through the use of deceptive images and texts. Whereas the anti-ad uses Marlboros own images to try and convince the viewer that Marlboro’s cigarettes are not really what the company is promoting and there may be a more important message that the consumer needs to know of. Both advertisements use images of the cowboy to reach out to their audiences, Marlboro portrays him as a serious and rugged figure to help market their product, as well as cover to up the very possible deadly side effects. On the flip side, that same cowboy is also used to demonstrate the after affects from smoking in the anti-ad and inform viewers as to why not to try Marlboro’s “rugged and robust” product. Showing this recognizable figure in a condition that is far from what is portrayed by Marlboro, helps to depict the company in a negative light, contradicting what is shown in Marlboros advertisements. Through the use of turning the very images that help make Marlboro recognizable against the company, the anti-ad exposes the reality and deception behind the glamorized cigarette advertisements put forth by Marlboro. The anti-ad shows a more likely lifestyle that will result from smoking, one that is not full of rugged manliness but of sickness and in many cases death.

(Comes with every pack)

Works cited

  1. Morgan, Mary. “A History in Marketing of Marlboro Brand Cigarettes”. Associated Content. 2009 <www.associatedcontent.com>.
  1. “Old Advertisements from the 1960’s, 70’s, and 80’s”. Old ads. 2009 <www.old-ads.com>.

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