The Marlboro Man may be the world's most identifiable cigarette advertising symbol, but you'd never know it by thumbing through the pages of U.S. magazines.
In the wake of the historic tobacco litigation settlement, Philip Morris Cos. decided last summer to stop advertising in several magazines that reached too many children. Nowadays, ads for the No. 1 cigarette brand continue to be placed in fewer magazine titles--even as several publications seeking to regain ads were able to show that they pass company guidelines.
In fact, media sources say Philip Morris' discount brand, Basic, appears in more magazines than Marlboro--a stunning shift for a company that spent hundreds of millions of dollars in print ads behind its top premium-priced brand over the past two decades.
What has some publishers concerned--especially those who thought Marlboro advertising would come back if they were able meet Philip Morris' criteria--is that magazine titles aren't being added back.
The reasons, according to sources, may be twofold. Philip Morris has taken much of the money it had spent behind Marlboro in magazines and is pumping it behind aggressive promotions at the retail level.
Some media sources also say Philip Morris may be using Marlboro as a test case to see how well the brand does with minimal advertising support. The driving force might be fear of a backlash if the Marlboro Man begins appearing in more magazines again.
As part of the legal settlement, tobacco companies agreed to advertising restrictions after critics held up the Marlboro Man and Joe Camel as fueling the problem of underage smoking.
Philip Morris' decision to cut some 50 titles took roughly $100 million in advertising out of circulation, sources said. The company spent about $200 million in cigarette advertising in 2000. Much of the pullback came from premium-priced placement in publications, including back covers and front-cover gatefolds.
Fewer than 15 magazines are believed to carry Marlboro advertising--down from more than 75 five years ago.
"I think most people are just waiting to see if this is just temporary," said one magazine source.
Executives at Starcom MediaVest Group, which handles Philip Morris' media buying, and Leo Burnett USA, the cigarette-maker's ad agency, referred calls to Philip Morris.
The company wouldn't comment, other than to reiterate that it decided to tighten its standards last year.
Philip Morris' decision to increase spending behind Basic comes at a time when the economy is slowing and the brand faces more competition, specifically from Brown & Williamson, which is relaunching its Pall Mall brand as a discount brand.
Jim Kirk, The Chicago Tribune. April 11, 2001
Copyright © 2001 The Chicago Tribune Company. All rights reserved.