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Marlboro Man reimagined

News, 30 November 2016
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RICHMOND, VA: A new image, direct mail, promotions and content marketing have helped Marlboro, the Philp Morris cigarette brand, regain market share among millennial smokers.

Five years ago Marlboro launched Marlboro Black, designed specifically to appeal to younger smokers who didn't relate to the cowboy imagery associated with its leading brand Marlboro Red and who also wanted a cheaper product with a less harsh taste.

The new product offers what the company described as a "bold, modern take" on the traditional brand. Or, as the Wall Street Journal put it: "think tattoos, black jeans and motorcycles instead of Stetsons, blue jeans and horses".

And the marketing of Marlboro Black has reflected that, with digital shorts featuring graffiti artists and lowrider cars, and direct mail created to resemble a VIP party invitation.

The urban theme has continued into promotional activity, with representatives handing out coupons for $1 packs of cigarettes at locations such as underground dance clubs.

It's still the case that around 85% of the target 18-25 age group doesn't smoke, but among those that do, Marlboro's share rose by three percentage points in three years to stand at 46% in 2014 – and a 1% share in the US market is estimated to be worth $320m a year.

"It's making Marlboro relevant again," said Bonnie Herzog, an analyst with Wells Fargo, a sentiment with which retailers such as Sheetz and Brookshire Brothers agree.

At Sheetz, for example, a 500-strong chain of gas stations/convenience stores headquartered in Altoona, Pennsylvania, Marlboro Black now claims a 6% to 8% market share, with Marlboro brands collectively holding around 50%.

Marlboro's colour-coded branding effectively began in 2010 when it was forced to rename Marlboro Lights – they became Marlboro Gold – after federal authorities banned the "light" appellation.

Parent company Philip Morris continues to fight lawsuits over allegations that Lights were deceptively marketed as being healthier to smoke than other kind of cigarettes and earlier this year settled a $45m class-action lawsuit in Arkansas. More than 11,000 people have applied for a share of the proceeds.

Data sourced from Wall Street Journal, Fox News; additional content by Warc staff

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