Marlboro Man Rides Into the Sunset

For the First Time Since Ad Icon Was Introduced in 1955, Philip Morris Ran No Ads for Cigarette Brand in Consumer Media

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CHICAGO ( -- So long, cowboy.

In 2006, for the first time since Philip Morris created the Marlboro Man in 1955, no Marlboro ads ran in U.S. consumer media. In fact, for the first time since Ad Age launched its Leading National Advertisers report in 1956, not a single tobacco company appears on the LNA roster for 2006, published today.

The world -- or just America -- may have seen the last of Marlboro Man. | ALSO: Comment on this article in the 'Your Opinion' box below.

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See More Extensive Data on Marlboro Ad Spending Since 1960

And so an advertising category fades to black after a century of slogans that created the ultimate killer brands: "I'd walk a mile for a Camel" (1921), "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should" (1954) and Marlboro Country.

Cigarette media spending totaled just $56 million in 2005, down 94% from its 1985 peak of $932 million, according to an Ad Age DataCenter analysis of Federal Trade Commission data. There's still plenty of marketing spending behind the products: The FTC said cigarette makers in 2005 spent $13.1 billion on U.S. "advertising and promotions" -- but the vast majority of that went to in-store trade and consumer price-promotion offers.

Media spending accounted for less than a penny of each dollar the industry laid out on advertising/promotion in 2005. In 1970, the last year cigarette ads ran on TV, media got 82% of cigarette ad/promo money.

Last year, tobacco advertising accounted for just 0.1% of U.S. measured media spending, according to TNS Media Intelligence data.

Just 21% of adults smoke, according to the Centers for Disease Control. Many of them have become outcasts of society -- and of Madison Avenue. "It's exceptionally difficult to recruit people to work on a tobacco account," said Amy Hoover, exec VP at Talent Zoo. "It's a tough mark to have on your résumé."

It wasn't always that way. In 1963, there were eight tobacco companies on Ad Age's 100 Leading National Advertisers roster. "It was so much a part of life in those days," said Wally O'Brien, now the retired director general of the International Advertising Association who in the early '60s was a copywriter on JWT's Liggett & Myers cigarette account.

Hard knocks
But the world changed Jan. 11, 1964, when Surgeon General Luther Terry released his devastating report. Mr. O'Brien recalls huddling with others in JWT's New York office that Saturday morning, grappling with how to respond. "It was one of the most agonizing weekends I've spent in my life," he said. "I didn't know how I could go back to work on Monday morning and still work on that account." Mr. O'Brien, a lifelong nonsmoker, later asked to be moved off the Liggett business.
Brand Identity
Sources: TNS Media Intelligence (ad $), Philip Morris (share)

Cigarette per-capita consumption peaked in 1963, the eve of the surgeon general's report. By 1971, cigarette TV advertising was history. But ad spending soared as the industry battled for share.

In 1985, the zenith year for cigarette advertising, Philip Morris Cos. and RJR Nabisco ranked Nos. 2 and 3 on Ad Age's LNA. That year, they were the top two magazine spenders, the top two outdoor advertisers and Nos. 2 and 4 newspaper advertisers.

Philip Morris, with a 50.3% U.S. share last year, and Reynolds American (formerly RJR), with a 29.8% share, now battle over a shrinking but lucrative U.S. market.

Overseas smokers
The big opportunity for tobacco -- and advertising -- is abroad, where tobacco is still growing. Philip Morris already generates nearly three-fourths of its revenue outside the U.S.

U.S. tobacco advertising lives on in limited form. Reynolds American last year had U.S. measured media spending of $52 million, mostly for Camel and Kool, according to TNS Media Intelligence. Philip Morris USA ran no ads promoting cigarettes (though it spent tens of millions on public-service and health-related ads, part of its effort to clean up its image).

Philip Morris USA spokesman Bill Phelps said: "We haven't placed any consumer advertising for our cigarette brands in newspapers or magazines in 2005, in 2006 and year to date this year." The company has focused on direct marketing and in-store promos.

The tack is working. In 2000, Marlboro had measured spending of $93 million and a 37.7% share. Last year Marlboro's share rose for the fourth consecutive year, to a record 40.5%.

The last Marlboro ad seen in the U.S. ran in Motor Trend en Español, May 2005. The ad, which appears to have been placed by an Ecuador unit of Philip Morris parent Altria Group, was measured by TNS because it circulated in the U.S.
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