I did ads and other materials to sell cigarettes for Philip Morris in Asia. It was for Leo Burnett, the ad agency celebrated (mostly self celebrated) for inventing the Marlboro Man.

When Marlboro launched in Korea, it was the usual formula cowboy horse Come to where the flavor is. Come to Marlboro Country.

My job was to create direct mail selling Marlboro branded belts, shirts, coats. I knew I d need some words other than Come to etc So I met with the Korean designers and writers in our Seoul office. Turns out I was the only Leo creative who spoke to them.

So what do you think of the ads? I asked.

I got surprised looks, then a bleak response Not good.

This was already a few million dollars into the launch. Why? What s not good? I asked.

This man on the horse we guess he is a farmer, they said. But we never see his farm. We guess he failed at farming.

This wasn t promising, and it got worse.

We Koreans are very social, they said. Family and friends are very important. This failed farmer has no family. He failed them also and he has no friends. He s a very sad, lonely man.

The world s most famous brand icon totaled.

I sought common ground. He s a strong, free thinking, person that everyone respects for going his own way, I said.

We don t have those in Korea, they replied.

How about a hermit monk? Don t you guys have monks who leave the modern life behind, to go live in caves and get enlightened?

Yes! they said. We have these monks!

The cowboy is like that. He s searching for something older, more pure.

We understand the cowboy now they said. but for us Koreans, modern is better than old. Those monks are not good for selling cigarettes.

Steve Meltzer, Stephan Partners

Marlboro shows the way forward for pepsi brand strategy

Winston cigarettes commercial (1955) – video dailymotion
June 6, 2013

Soda pop consumption in the U.S. has fallen for the 8th straight year, dropping by 1.2% in 2012 to its lowest level since 1987. First lady Michelle Obama is leading a national charge to get kids to stop drinking it, and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg wants to limit consumption legislatively. Alternatives to soda are cranking on as many sales cylinders as there are flavor options, from sports drinks and flavored waters, to energy drinks and teas.

So it was surprising to me that Pepsi just last week named a global chief marketing officer who 1) has no experience in the beverage business, but rather has done things like cut entertainment tie ins for fashion brands, and 2) will be tasked with thinking about how Pepsi continues to be the brand in the cola category that reinvents things and excites people with new ideas, according to one interview.

But then it hit me The soda category is the 21st century s cigarette industry. Whether talking to a pack a day smoker or daily Big Gulp drinker, the branding challenge is to reaffirm the choices of existing customers versus making pitches to new ones. That s why it makes sense for Pepsi to hire a marketer who excels at things like engagement and culture instead of selling products.

You can t separate soda pop or cigarette branding from the context of the 20th century. Both were originally considered good for you, whether dispensed via pharmacy fountains or recommended by doctors to calm nerves. Then, as the economy and culture empowered people to express themselves, soda pop and smoking were marketed as quick, rewarding ways to do so. Mass media allowed brands to claim symbolic abstractions of happiness, independence, and success, and then repeat that positioning in evermore creative and compelling ways. The functional benefits of sugar, caffeine, and nicotine were inescapable, but people tended to choose one brand over another because of the images associated with them.

Those days are long gone.

Obesity is our century s lung cancer. It s a self inflicted outcome of consumption choices. Like cigarettes and cancer, the functional benefits of drinking soda pop are a contributing cause (though not consistently or only). Granted, there aren t warning labels on soda pop cans, limits on where or how they can be advertised, or special sin taxes levied on them yet it s just not cool to regularly drink soda pop like it used to be, similarly to the way cigarettes lost their panache over time. Without the convincing power of mass media to tell consumers otherwise, the associative benefits of drinking soda seem to be slowly going the way of those of smoking.

So the marketing challenge is to keep a shrinking audience of customers using those products. Cigarette brands, most notably Marlboro, have shown the way forward for this branding strategy, which involves three core components

Sponsorship. Buying entertainment properties and events that promote lifestyle while avoiding any claims of benefits lets brands talk directly to core consumers without, well, saying much of anything. So, like Marlboro sponsored Formula One racing (R.J. Reynolds did NASCAR), Pepsi is already spending oodles for the privilege of having pop star Beyonce not sell soda pop in ads (Coke is dropping major coin on Taylor Swift).

Merchandising. Since your product may have negative associations, creationg merch that might otherwise have benefits gets your branding across without overtly hyping it. Marlboro has done a brilliant job of creating jackets, hats, and other accessories for its committed customers to use (I think it s profitable for them, so the branding pays for itself). For soda pop customers, the corollary products are things like music downloads and online games. Both Pepsi and Coke are already very active in music.

Philanthropy. Philip Morris, Marlboro s parent company, has been literally buying goodwill for its brands for years with major contributions to the arts (even giving up space in its headquarters lobby to an art museum). Doing good works sidesteps having to make direct claims to brand benefits while, again, getting the message across. Pepsi flirted a few years ago with a campaign called The Pepsi Refresh Project that was too cute for its own good, and Coke s recent Arctic Home campaign tried to link soda consumption with environmental protection. I d bet there s more coming.

Marlboro has proven that preaching to the faithful can be very lucrative, and there s absolutely nothing wrong with selling legal products, giving money away, and enabling people who love your stuff to love it some more (Full disclosure I smoked Marlboros for a decade and loved every minute of it).

Slowing the decline in soda pop consumption is a far different challenge than growing use. Every new can, bottle, sweetener, or other innovation may help keep customers longer, but won t likely get at why anybody would want to drink the stuff in the first place. Neither will splashy, expensive sponsorship, merchandising, or philanthropy marketing campaigns.

Pepsi has a story to tell, and every right to tell it. The Marlboro example suggests that we already know the plot.

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Jonathan Salem Baskin, branding Marlboro, Pepsi, strategy, marketing, sponsorship, merchandising, philantropy