Friday, September 17, 2010

Matt 24 watch, 109: Answering the Marlboro Man mentality

Occasionally, Wikipedia hits the nail solidly on the head.

In describing the Marlboro man ad campaign from the 1950's on, it did just that:

>> Philip Morris & Co. (now Altria) had originally introduced the Marlboro brand as a woman's cigarette in 1924. Starting in the early 1950s, the cigarette industry began to focus on promoting filtered cigarettes, as a response to the emerging scientific data about harmful effects of smoking. Marlboro, as well as other brands, started to be sold with filters. However, filtered cigarettes, Marlboro in particular, were considered to be women’s cigarettes.[2] Advertising executive Leo Burnett was looking for a new image with which to reinvent Philip Morris's Marlboro brand to appeal to a mass market. In particular, Philip Morris felt that the prime market was “post adolescent kids who were just beginning to smoke as a way of declaring their independence from their parents.” [3] 

Most filtered cigarette advertising sought to make claims about the technology behind the filter. Through the use of complex terminology and scientific claims regarding the filter, the cigarette industry wanted to ease fears about the harmful effects of cigarette smoking through risk reduction. However, Leo Burnett decided to address the growing fears through an entirely different matter; creating ads completely void of health concerns or health claims of the filtered cigarette. Burnett felt that making claims about the effectiveness of filters furthered concerns of the long term effects of smoking. Thus, refusing to respond to health claims matched the emergent, masculine image of the New Marlboro . . . .

The New Marlboro not only innovated cigarette advertising, but advertising on the whole through its use of image to convey meaning. Since the inception of major advertising campaigns, advertisers felt the need to explain the product as a way of introduction or as a reminder. Advertisements went to great lengths to explain why to choose their particular brand and were particularly wordy. In the Marlboro Man advertisements, the imagery spoke for itself, and the brand was redesigned to have a “personality and a reason for being,” according to Burnett.  >>

Thus was our era born -- our era in which image, impression, and induced emotions so often substitute for substance.

How sadly ironic is it, then, to have to note with Wikipedia that:
. . . Three men who appeared in Marlboro advertisements - Wayne McLaren, David McLean and Dick Hammer - all died of lung cancer, thus earning Marlboro cigarettes, specifically Marlboro Reds, the nickname "Cowboy killers".

 So, we see the telling force of Aristotle's remark in his The Rhetoric, Bk I Ch 2:
Of the modes of persuasion furnished by the spoken word there are three kinds. The first kind depends on the personal character of the speaker [ethos]; the second on putting the audience into a certain frame of mind [pathos]; the third on the proof, or apparent proof, provided by the words of the speech itself [logos]. Persuasion is achieved by the speaker's personal character when the speech is so spoken as to make us think him credible . . . Secondly, persuasion may come through the hearers, when the speech stirs their emotions. Our judgements when we are pleased and friendly are not the same as when we are pained and hostile . . . Thirdly, persuasion is effected through the speech itself when we have proved a truth or an apparent truth by means of the persuasive arguments suitable to the case in question . . . . [The Rhetoric, Book I, Ch. 2]

Of these three, emotions driven by our impressions and perceptions are clearly the most persuasive; as they exploit how things seem to be to us. However, our mere strength of feelings or perceptions are no stronger than the underlying accuracy of the judgements they are rooted in. Similarly, no authority, expert or witness is any better than his or her facts, assumptions and reasoning. So, it is only when the claimed facts are so, fairly represent the truth, and are linked to good reasoning, that a conclusion will be well warranted.  

Thus, we easily see the vital importance of focussing on substance, not image and impression.

But also,  there are a couple of interesting twists to the Marlboro Man story.

First, as Sports Illustrated noted in a January 1977 story, the original Marlboro Man -- astonishingly --  is indeed a real-life cowboy, not a model posing as a cowboy:
It is a good face. It is authentic. So is the scenery, the cattle; so are the horses. But that doesn't mean you think for one minute that the owner of this good face is a cowboy. The Marlboro Man? Come on. He would be too rich by now, for one thing. Authenticity is something you find by taking pictures of about 1,000 models in that cowboy getup and asking about 1,000 housewives which model has it. If the Marlboro Man were a cowboy, that would be truly ironic.
If Darrell Winfield could just hear you. "How you do go on," he would say. Winfield is in the cow town of Pinedale, Wyo. for several unironic, quite coherent reasons. He used to live here, before he bought 40 acres over north at Riverton, 165 miles away, so he is here, for one thing, to see old friends. He is here to deliver two horses that he sold the day before yesterday in Riverton. And, primarily, he is here to rope steers in the rodeo.

When we turn to the originator of the campaign, Leo Burnett (who also created the Jolly Green Giant, the Pillsbury Doughboy and Tony the Tiger), we learn that he . . .
followed Walter Lippman's philosophy of creating an image around the product. Until his time, advertising centered on long text descriptions of the product, with detailed arguments as to why it was better than competing products.
Burnett concentrated on style, creating icons as a symbol of the product. He stressed that the creator of an ad needed to somehow capture and reflect what he called the "inherent drama" of the product.
So, there is a measure of validity to identifying a visually powerful icon, that then becomes the pivot of a short, moving, authentic drama that tells the central message or story of the product, idea, or whatever that is being promoted. Indeed, as we look at the key role in our culture played by Bible stories like David and Goliath or the parable of the Good Samaritan, we can see how this has been understood for thousands of years.

There is nothing inherently wrong with a powerfully moving image and story.

Except, that such can be used to mislead and manipulate; whether by outright lies, or by telling half the story, or by inviting the listener to see things in a twisted way, leading him or her to draw unwarranted and biased inferences.

Which, we must never do.

The apostle Paul therefore lays out a challenging standard for the ethics of information and persuasion:
2 Cor 2:2 . . .  we have renounced secret and shameful ways; we do not use deception, nor do we distort the word of God. On the contrary, by setting forth the truth plainly we commend ourselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God. [NIV]
2 Cor 10:4 For the weapons of our warfare are not physical [weapons of flesh and blood], but they are mighty before God for the overthrow and destruction of strongholds, 5 [Inasmuch as we] refute arguments and theories and reasonings and every proud and lofty thing that sets itself up against the [true] knowledge of God; and we lead every thought and purpose away captive into the obedience of Christ (the Messiah, the Anointed One) . . . .
Col. 2:3 In Him all the treasures of [divine] wisdom (comprehensive insight into the ways and purposes of God) and [all the riches of spiritual] knowledge and enlightenment are stored up and lie hidden. 4 I say this in order that no one may mislead and delude you by plausible and persuasive and attractive arguments and beguiling speech . . .  [AMP]

A tough challenge, but one we must measure up to. END


FOOTNOTE: An interesting e-mail response reads:
Very timely, thanks for this. The way the media portrays its images these days in indeed very beguiling and deceptive. I also noticed that by relying on images to appeal to emotion rather than relaying what is actually good about the product, anything could be portrayed as ''good'' no matter what it actually was. Just show a few popular or influential people using it or create a fictitious one and you're sold. Also it seems by relying on the image to emotion technique more than arguing for the ''superiority'' of the subject Leo Burnett was also able to take on its clients competitors. Unlike ads of the past it no longer had to create ads that pitted competitors against each other. i.e representing Marlboro, Miller Light and Benson and Hedges??!

When you highlighted the use of imagery tell the story as with the Good Samaritan and, David and Goliath, this reminded me of an insight God gave me when I was questioning some advice several influential persons in my life had given me. It was that - a Principle used outside of its true purpose creates a subsystem of dominance and control.

This is what has been achieved with porn, fashion, food and much of modern day advertising. We no longer think critically,  but are almost hypnotised through our eyes into believing what is presented to us. And by simply using imagery without making any direct claims - good or bad, the advertiser abdicates himself from any form of direct responsibility.

A seeming stroke of genius on the surface but deception underneath.

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