I know that I’m not saying anything new with this post, but after reading an recent article answering the question “Did the Marlboro Man Die of Lung Cancer?”, I had to wonder if there was anyone else out there aware of the sharp, poetic irony associated with the death of not one, but two men who played the role of the Marlboro Man in ads for Marlboro cigarettes. Didn’t they get the memo that smoking is bad?
To be fair, at least thirteen men have played the Marlboro Man throughout the years and only two have died of lung cancer: Wayne McClaren in 1992, and David McClean in 1995. And also to be fair, at the time these gentlemen began their stints on the Marlboro Man ad campaign, cigarettes were not yet associated with a high risk of cancer development and more importantly, smoking was supposed to be cool.
Fortunately, times have changed, and we are now fully aware of the deadly risks associated with tobacco use and cancer. A quick search on the American Cancer Society web site states that smoking is responsible for 1 in 5 deaths in the US alone, and that tobacco use accounts for about 30% of all cancer deaths and 87% of all lung cancer deaths.
Anyway, back to the whole Marlboro Man ad campaign: what a racket that was! That was quite possibly the most genius ad campaign ever conceived. What woman has not dreamed of a rough and rugged cowboy, noticeable stubble enhancing an unbelievably handsome-as-sin face, wearing chaps and riding up on a stallion complete with a saddle made for two? This was a brilliant advertising strategy. Who cares if this guy is lighting up? He’s smoking hot! (Okay, that was bad — I admit it.)
Still, I can see where the advertising execs were going with that one. The Marlboro Man was supposed to encompass everything that was essentially male. Women wanted him, and men wanted to be him. Him in the ads, that is, not him hacking his lungs out and smelling like an ashtray from the five packs of cigarettes he had to smoke everyday to maintain the image.
Perhaps it’s the schadenfreude associated with the Marlboro Man’s diagnosis that gave modern-day lung cancer awareness so much weight — a rough and ready cowboy brought to his knees by the very thing that made him famous. Ain’t irony grand?