Still, he needed an ownable proposition to lift Winston, a once-proud brand that had been sagging for 20 years.
"We didn't need a campaign. We needed an attitude," says the 42-year-old VP-marketing for Winston.
"You either reinvent yourself against the competition or you'll lie in a ditch."
Mr. Leary took note of the trend toward natural fibers such as 100% cotton, the popularity of four-wheel-drive vehicles and original brands like Harley-Davidson. So he decided to promote his product as the "real deal."
The straightforward attitude was reflected in everything from the brand's formulation-a new, no-additive blend-to tough-talking, honest advertising to give Winston a personality it could own as much as rival Marlboro owned the Marlboro Man.
"We spent two years optimizing the communication," notes Mr. Leary of the $40 million account, which was ultimately won by Long Haymes Carr, Winston-Salem, N.C. "The hard part was getting the creative to really deliver."
Deliver it did: Winston showed 3% volume growth in the first quarter of 1998, according to RJR's most recent earnings statement, over the comparable quarter a year earlier.
"My share of market is going in a different direction for the first time in 20 years," says Mr. Leary. "And that's going up against a formidable competitor."