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Philip Morris USA has been asked by government officials to retire the Marlboro Man early-the same type of request made to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. only weeks before that marketer pulled the beleaguered Joe Camel ad campaign.

Washington state Attorney General Christine Gregoire said that government representatives, during the tobacco talks, asked RJR and Philip Morris to halt their Joe Camel and Marlboro Man campaigns, respectively, "as an example of good faith."

The announcement by RJR "was [the tobacco industry's] first act to show that good faith," she added. "Now I hope the rest of the industry follows suit . . . We [also] want the Marlboro Man down."


Ms. Gregoire said that while neither Philip Morris or RJR made promises, they responded that "we'll work on it, we'll think about it."

While Philip Morris didn't say it would pull the Marlboro Man from its ads, neither did the company maintain it wouldn't be modified.

"Right now, the campaign remains unchanged," said a spokeswoman. "As to the future, I can't comment on marketing plans for competitive reasons."


She added that under the agreement negotiated by state attorneys general with the tobacco industry, the Marlboro Man would eventually go away anyway.

For Philip Morris, the removal of the Marlboro Man would be a relatively easy proposition, considering that a cowboy doesn't appear in all its advertising now. The company has run ads for Marlboro Medium showing no people at all, just Western images such as boots and saddles. In some current regular Marlboro ads, the cowboy is only hinted at, showing him in extreme close-up striking a match on his belt buckle.

Leo Burnett USA, Chicago, is the longtime agency for the No. 1 brand.


"It's evolved pretty nicely," a tobacco marketing executive said of Marlboro's campaign. "Philip Morris could easily drop the people in the ads."

RJR's decision to bench Joe Camel comes after nine hard-fought years defending the character. As Advertising Age first reported, RJR has been testing the alternate print campaign-handled by Mezzina/Brown, New York, which also handled the Joe Camel campaign-that shows a stylized camel fashioned after the one on its cigarette pack (AA, March 10).

Three versions have already run in print, including that of a woman exhaling smoke in the shape of a camel; camel-shaped smoke wafting up from a cigarette tucked in the strings of a guitar; and the camel image appearing as a watermark on a bar. The theme: "What you're looking for."

Those three-which will fully replace Joe Camel as of August-will be followed up with a riskier outdoor execution that shows only the camel outline and the brand name, without ad copy or picture of a pack. The required health warning appears to be the major indicator that the ad is for a cigarette. Outdoor starts later this month.

Under the proposed tobacco agreement, outdoor ads will be banned altogether and ads would not be permitted to show people, as certain of the Camel print executions do.

An RJR spokesman denied that the tobacco agreement or the Federal Trade Commission investigation into Joe Camel ads played a role in its decision.


"These ads were done for marketing reasons," he said. "We have said for five or six years that if we could develop new ads that were just as effective, we would."

That said, he added: "Are we denying that the controversy played a part in us looking for a new campaign? No."

Ad industry executives said market share won't necessarily be harmed by the removal of Joe Camel or the Marlboro Man.

"People choose a cigarette for taste and other reasons of personal preference," said an ad executive with tobacco marketing experience. "They don't drop a brand because it's stopped using an advertising symbol."


Controversy or no, the cartoon Joe has built share for RJR. In the first quarter, the brand's share grew to 5% from 4.5% for the same period in 1996, according to the Maxwell Consumer Report.

And, Marlboro's consistent use of Western themes continues to increase share significantly as other brands lose steam. The brand's share climbed to 33.3% for the first quarter, up 2 full percentage points from first-quarter '96, according to Maxwell.

Tobacco marketers will still need to connect with younger consumers in some way, said Meridien Consulting Group Managing Director Jeff Hill.

"People in their 40s used to be the heavy users of tobacco, but now they are moving away from it," he said. "Heavy users are younger today, and the challenge will be to find advertising campaigns that have less reliance on historical

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