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Be Greater Than…Smoking.

The latest Marlboro cigarettes ad campaign from Philip Morris International is global in reach – deployed in 50 countries – and is sparking quite a controversy. The question at hand: do these ads target teens?

Let’s take a look at the visuals: crowd surfing at a concert; sucking face in the street; catching air on a snowboard. Well, that’s a big yes. What about the copy? The headline concept always involves the word “maybe” – as in, “maybe” is what weaklings think; strong individuals take action. Action like smoking cigarettes, I suppose. So don’t be a maybe…be a somebody and smoke Marlboro. That sounds like peer pressure any way you read it, which is another indicator that this campaign targets teens.

Now let’s look at the tagline: the word “Be,” the “greater than” sign that teens just learned about in math class, and the Marlboro box. What does this mean? Either it’s “Be greater than, Be Marlboro” – which is the intent. Or, maybe (just maybe) teens will read it as “Be greater than Marlboro” – in other words, be greater than smoking. So even if it’s the latter and encouraging readers in some bizarrely subliminal manner not to smoke, it’s another element that has “teenager” written all over it.

Tsk tsk, Philip Morris. No wonder Germany banned your ads. Now if you really wanted to reach teens without sparking a storm of media hate, maybe you should put old people in the same ads and go for an ironic effect. But I’m thinking you wanted the free press…after all, if mommy and daddy hate the ads, it’s just one more reason to pick up a pack of reds, right?

~ @AdvertGirl (aka Denise Blasevick, CEO, The S3 Agency)


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