Too Hard to Make a Change?

Occupy Tobacco Control isn’t a movement about what we do…

It’s a movement about how people think about what we do.

It’s easy to believe that there has been too much water under the bridge.

It seems natural to imagine that it isn’t possible to reverse powerful trends. 

Change is hard.

Here’s a relevant story that I think can help remind us of the power of perspective.  It reminds me that, what I sometimes take for granted as TOTALLY TRUE AND OBVIOUS today, wasn’t necessarily always that true or obvious.  It reminds me that sometimes people can actually create a perspective that becomes so much a part of our everyday lives, that it’s hard for us to imagine that it was ever otherwise.  This stuff still surprises me everytime I think about it.

One seriously important change in perspective –

Did you know that the Phillip Morris tobacco company began as a local tobacconist in England in the early 19th century?  They were wildly popular – sort of the “must have” brand of tobacco at the time.  Just like the original Cadbury chocolates, Phillip Morris tobacco was highly regarded for its quality, its richness, and its flavor.  It was a powerful symbol of British access to the world.    Even the royalty were said to enjoy their Phillip Morris tobacco.  It remained eminently British until 1902, when their success at home convinced the proprietors to open an outpost in New York.

Because of the company’s “upper crusty” identity at home, the initial target U.S. market was refined women who might be looking for a milder, softer, more civilized smoke.  At the time, Phillip Morris sold a number of brands, all named after areas of England: Cambridge, Derby, and Marlborough.  By 1924, Phillip Morris became Philip Morris, and they changed the name of the Marlborough brand to the more American looking Marlboro.  That’s when they introduced their slogan Mild as May

 No kidding.  Mild as May. 

 Their idea was to attract women who wanted to exert their independence (think suffrage) but who didn’tlike the harsh, raw feel of the other available brands.   

  They introduced the idea that Ivory Tips Protect Lips to appeal to a woman’s soft-lipped sensibilities.  Finally, they colored their cigarette ends red, as a gimmick intended to hide lipstick marks. 

And then it happened…


In the 1950s there was growing concern that cigarette smoking was causing lung cancer.  believe it or not, it wasn’t the New England Journal of Medicine that began to change people’s minds, it was Reader’s Digest.  Yup.  Reader’s Digest.

Of course, women didn’t want to get lung cancer.  Growing health concerns hit Marlboro pretty hard.  They tried a few things to allay their customer’s fears.  One famously stupid idea was to put a cork filter between the user and the tobacco.  Cork just didn’t “breathe” well.  Try that the next time you open a bottle of wine.  Plus it doesn’t actually filter anything.  So they changed their filter to fibers and kept the familiar cork print so they wouldn’t have to explain.

What used to be true is just not true anymore…

 The decision is made to forego women, and switch to men.  But how do you convince men to buy something that has been Mild as May for so many years?  Men just didn’t buy “effeminate” products.  That’s when Leo Burnett stepped in. 

He saw some pictures in a 1949 issue of Life magazine that featured a cowboy doing cowboy things. Burnett saw tons of masculinity, and a way to advertise a product. With little more than the word “Marlboro” and a picture of a rough and tumble cowboy smoking a cigarette, the Marlboro Man campaign was born.  The campaign turned sales on their head, and is still considered one of the most brilliant strokes in advertising of all time.

The rest, as they say, is history.  With an organized approach to changing what people think, Leo Burnett and Philip Morris were able to turn what everyone believed to be TOTALLY TRUE AND OBVIOUS completely upside down.  Today, the Marlboro brand, with its red box lid reminiscent of those red lipstick tips of the 1920s, remains a powerful symbol of masculinity and ruggedness.

If Leo Burnett can do it, so can we. 


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