Back in the early 1950s, the tobacco industry had started to focus on the development and promotion of filtered cigarettes. This was mainly in response to scientific data that proved smoking was indeed harmful to human health. One brand in particular – Marlboro, started to be sold with filters. The knock-on effect was that Marlboro began to be viewed as a cigarette for women, much to the dismay of the brand’s owner Philip Morris.
Motivated by making Marlboro more universally appealing, Philip Morris tasked its advertising agency Leo Burnett to create a new image. An image that would reinvent Marlboro for a wider market.
Enter the Marlboro Man; still to this day dubbed as one of the most iconic and successful advertising campaigns of all time. Looking at the results, it’s no surprise why. This rugged, masculine cowboy, boosted sales for Philip Morris from $5bn to $20bn – a whopping 300%, inside of just two years.
Whilst its competitors were focusing on selling detail, bombarding the public with complex jargon and scientific claims surrounding the filter, Philip Morris and Leo Burnett took an entirely different approach. They sold a story. They created an iconic figure that resonated with millions of men worldwide. Men who saw the ads, saw themselves. By smoking Marlboro, they were the Marlboro Man.
Brags, boasts and bravado
Most marketing unfortunately isn’t this clever, which is why so many messages from brands go unnoticed every single day. They spend millions attempting to get our attention, and then end up scratching their heads when nobody actually pays them any. They blow all of their budget telling us how amazing their company, product or service is, but forget to leave any room for us.
You don’t have to look very far to see examples. Take a look at this recent advertisement from Hertz, and compare it to the Marlboro Man. The Marlboro campaign was created in 1955. This Hertz one in 2012. You’d have thought brands and agencies would have studied what made the Marlboro Man successful.
Hertz, nor its agency clearly hasn’t. The entire page is full of bravado. They want us to know how absolutely amazing they are – they don’t give two hoots about us. Ever been to a networking event and had to endure the pain of listening to some self-righteous schmuck bleat on about themselves non-stop? This is the advertising equivalent. And guess what? Our reaction is the same. You don’t care about us, therefore we don’t care about you.
Celebrate your customer, not yourself
Brand storytelling is a hot buzzword right now. Everybody’s interested in it, but so few really get it. To the surprise of many, it’s actually been around for decades – just look at iconic campaigns such as the Marlboro man. It’s concept is actually very simple; stories are captivating, memorable and inspiring. They aren’t about facts, figures and statistics. They allow us to forget the mundane and transport us to a place where our imagination can run wild.
We can see ourselves in stories. We identify with lead characters. Therefore the art of brand storytelling is not to boast how amazing you are, but to tell a story that puts your customer at the heart. It makes them the hero, not you.
There is a reason that Nike is one of the world’s best loved and most valuable brands. They are masters at the art of brand storytelling. They use it at the heart of every piece of communication. Their website, their TV ads, their stores and even their YouTube videos put us, their customer at the centre of the message. Nike doesn’t boast about how amazing they are, they celebrate how amazing we are.