Tobacco giant pressured to discontinue ‘Be Marlboro’ campaign

11 Mar 2014

 Launched in Germany in 2011, PMI’s ‘Be Marlboro’ campaign carries the message, “Don’t Be a Maybe. Be Marlboro”. It associates smoking the brand with a youth-friendly lifestyle of risk-taking, exploration and freedom.

The campaign also features images of attractive young people partying, falling in love, playing music, and engaging in adventure sports. It tells young audiences that “Maybe never fell in love” or “a maybe is not invited”, and that they should define themselves by choosing to “Be Marlboro.”

Court finds campaign violates advertising law

In October 2013, a German court banned the campaign, finding that it encouraged children as young as 14 to smoke. This was in violation of Germany’s tobacco advertising law.

Similar complaints have also been filed in Brazil, Colombia and Switzerland.

The call to end the campaign is found in a new report, titled “You’re the Target”, issued by the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, Alliance for the Control of Tobacco Use, Corporate Accountability International, FCA, InterAmerican Heart Foundation and Southeast Asia Tobacco Control Alliance.

The report also calls on governments to enact comprehensive bans on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship in accordance with the WHO Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC).

Low, mid-income countries targeted

Despite the German court’s findings, PMI continues to aggressively roll out the campaign globally, especially in many low and middle-income countries struggling with high smoking rates and related death and disease. These include Argentina, Brazil, China, Colombia, Indonesia, the Philippines, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Ukraine.

“This report offers further proof that despite its denials, the tobacco industry does target teenagers as future smokers,” said FCA Director Laurent Huber. “We urge Parties to the FCTC, and all governments, to enact comprehensive bans on all forms of tobacco advertising, promotion and sponsorship.”

Other findings from the report show that the campaign:

  • Uses themes and imagery that track the recommendations of previous PMI internal research documents on marketing to kids.
  • Was created by Leo Burnett, the same advertising firm responsible for the Marlboro Man campaign, which made Marlboro the world’s best-selling cigarette brand. 
  • Used numerous marketing tactics that are effective at reaching youth and have been banned in many countries. These include advertising on billboards, bus stops, outside retail stores, music event sponsorships, beach tours, online promotional videos, interactive promotional booths and large cigarette displays.
  • Appears to violate PMI’s marketing standards, published on its website, which state, “We do not market to children or use images or content that might appeal to minors.”

More information


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