In the early 1950’s the Philip Morris Tobacco Company was attempting to figure out a method of attracting men to smoke filter tip cigarettes because there was a mistaken belief that the filter tip would lower the toxicity of cigarettes and the demand for them would increase. Their leading filter tip brand, Marlboro, was very popular with women. Therefore, they needed to figure out how they could get men to buy Marlboro’s. Their adverting agency came up with idea of the “Marlboro Man.” The images initially featured rugged men portrayed in a variety of roles but later primarily featured a seasoned cowboy or cowboys in picturesque wild terrain. The campaign was hugely successful and Marlboro sales to men grew exponentially. To further understand the true meaning of the Marlboro man, the following excerpt from a research paper contrasting the Michelangelo sculpture David with the Marlboro man is quite instructive.
“However, the greatest similarity between the David and the Marlboro Man is the philosophical ideas they symbolize. Via the chosen particulars, strong profile, the masculine hands, the man of action (as both inner thought and outer action), the Marlboro Man symbolizes the universal in man: reason, independence, efficacy, and egoism. Like the David, the Marlboro Man controls and is at home in an intelligible universe, comprehending reality and acting in accordance with it. Fronting the essential facts of life, the Marlboro Man purposely exists as his own end, doing what must be done. An imitation and perfection of nature, the completion of the nature of man, the potential as abstraction in form, man as he could be, more handsome than any particular man, more real than the real, the Marlboro Man symbolizes the same meta-ethical, aesthetic and political ideas as the David. The Marlboro Man stands tall on the billboards of the world as the Aristotelian aesthetic ideal, symbolizing reason, independence, efficacy, egoism and explicitly or implicitly, republican liberty (Exhibit 8). In Aristotelian fundamentals, the Marlboro Man is a 20th century David.” In current popular culture the Marlboro Man is often referred to as a symbol of the “real man” stereotype of hyper masculinity. The Marlboro type man is seen as a man confined to the man code limiting his emotional life and forced to live a limited masculinity that negatively affects his well being and his attitudes towards women. However, if we examine the traits associated with the Marlboro Man stereotype we see some very positive aspects of masculinity. Taking action is embedded in the Warrior archetype. Again, in the light a man of action who does not use his warrior to bully or utilize excessive violence is highly desirable. Reason -comprehending reality – is the behavior associated with the King archetype and in the light is the thoughtful deliberating aspect of masculinity. Not sure what the problem with independence is as long as it is not taken to the extremes of isolation. An independent man takes responsibility for his actions without blaming others for mistakes and misfortune. Efficacy, getting things done quickly, can also be seen as a positive trait of masculinity. Men tend to be result oriented fixers. As long as a man does not become so hyper focused that he ignores the bigger picture resolving a problem expeditiously is a good thing. I do agree that egoism is not a positive trait that the real man should endorse and not necessary ingredient for a positive real man role model.
What we need is a new and renamed Marlboro Man that represents the best of masculinity without abandoning the notion that there is much benefit to aspiring to be a “Real Man.” I welcome blog readers to suggest a new image and name to replace the Marlboro Man.