Media: Marlboro's red makes it black and white. Geddit?: Martin Rosenbaum analyses the subversive motives behind those ads that make you scratch your head

THE Marlboro cowboy, one of the world's most famous advertising symbols, has long been banned in Britain on the grounds that his macho image conflicts with the cigarette advertising code. A peculiar alternative, however, has been appearing on poster sites around the country: the Marlboro redneck.

This is the hefty pick-up-truck driver whose sunburnt neck is the one feature picked out in colour in an otherwise black and white shot. The health warning tells you that the photograph is a tobacco advertisement; and the red, that the ad is for Marlboro (it offers no brand name, nor any other indication).

Some in the advertising industry confess to being puzzled by the linking of the product to an emblem of gun-toting, narrow-minded bigotry. The ad, however, is just one in a series for Marlboro that emphasises the colour red, which some see as part of a far-reaching strategy.

All the ads - others have featured a cactus, a police car and a scorpion - rely entirely on one element of red in a black and white American landscape to convey intriguingly (in conjunction with the health warning) the product advertised.

'Red is the branding element, as opposed to having a pack,' says Alison Wright, the account manager at the agency involved, Bainsfair Sharkey Trott. 'If you can make someone wonder and have a second look, you can get their attention for the brand.'

Perhaps the campaign is simply another ingenious gimmick from an ad agency outwitting tobacco advertising restrictions; or perhaps it is part of a long-term plan to counter a future EC-imposed total ban on tobacco advertising, which is widely regarded as inevitable.

According to Action on Smoking and Health (Ash), it is a stage in Marlboro's attempt to appropriate the colour red, and build up the association between red and Marlboro so that, even in an ad-less future, the mere sight of the colour will trigger the brand in smokers' minds. Ash's deputy director, Stephen Woodward, says: 'We will see shopfronts painted in line with cigarette-pack colours. It is an insidious and dangerous form of communication.'

Ash points to Marlboro-sponsored Formula 1 cars that feature the red and white chevron but no brand name, and to a promotion in Germany two years ago. The campaign, conceived by the British agency TBWA Holmes Knight Ritchie, featured people, dressed entirely in red, wandering the streets. The purpose was revealed by newspaper ads stating: 'Marlboro is Red. Red is Marlboro.'

The advertising for Benson and Hedges and Silk Cut has also strongly linked these brands to gold and purple respectively, although these campaigns were established before complete bans on tobacco advertising appeared likely.

The Ash claim is denied equally vehemently by Philip Morris, the international owners of the Marlboro brand, and Rothmans, which has the UK licence. 'It's just fatuous,' says Daniel Oxbury of Rothmans. None the less, the argument is accepted within some tobacco industry circles, where such a strategy is defended. Peter Anderson of the Tobacco Advisory Council, the trade's representative body, says: 'Companies have to think about the ways they can reach customers if a ban goes through. It's easier for Marlboro because it has such a strong symbol.'

Another advantage for Marlboro is detected by Tom Porter, colour consultant to blue chip companies such as TCT and Barclays Bank. 'The consumer is gullible when it comes to colour,' he says. 'The Marlboro red conveys strength, power and instant satisfaction for the product. The advertising reduces communication to a flash of colour.'

Last week the Department of Health reported no drop in smoking by 11- to 15- year-olds between 1990 and 1992. And the Health Education Authority has called for a ban on the award-winning Regal cigarette advertising campaign featuring the gormless, wise-cracking Reg, now a cult figure among some children.

Next month European Community health ministers will meet to continue their consideration of the EC Commission's proposal for an outright ban on tobacco advertising. Belgium, current holder of the EC presidency, may propose a compromise formula that could split the blocking minority of states (including the UK) and allow imposition of a ban.

The current draft directive prohibits the display of tobacco brand names and logos anywhere other than at point of sale, but would not prevent the use of a distinctive colour on, for example, a tobacconist's shopfront or a sponsored racing car. Mr Anderson says: 'I'm sure the anti-tobacco lobby would look at ways you can close that off, but I don't think you can ban a colour. It's preposterous.'

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Media

Guru Careers: Lead Systems Developer / Software Developer

COMPETITIVE + Excellent Benefits: Guru Careers: A Lead Systems Developer / Sof...

Recruitment Genius: Social Media & Engagement Manager - French or German Speaker

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: The world's leading financial services careers...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Marketing Executive - 6 Months Contract

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: The Digital Marketing Executive...

Guru Careers: Account Manager / Senior Account Manager

40-45K DOE + Benefits: Guru Careers: An Account Manager / Senior Account Manag...

Day In a Page

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation: Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places

The Silk Roads that trace civilisation

Long before the West rose to power, Asian pathways were connecting peoples and places
House of Lords: Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled

The honours that shame Britain

Outcry as donors, fixers and MPs caught up in expenses scandal are ennobled
When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race

'When it comes to street harassment, we need to talk about race'

Why are black men living the stereotypes and why are we letting them get away with it?
International Tap Festival: Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic

International Tap Festival comes to the UK

Forget Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers - this dancing is improvised, spontaneous and rhythmic
War with Isis: Is Turkey's buffer zone in Syria a matter of self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Turkey's buffer zone in Syria: self-defence – or just anti-Kurd?

Ankara accused of exacerbating racial division by allowing Turkmen minority to cross the border
Doris Lessing: Acclaimed novelist was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show

'A subversive brothel keeper and Communist'

Acclaimed novelist Doris Lessing was kept under MI5 observation for 18 years, newly released papers show
Big Blue Live: BBC's Springwatch offshoot swaps back gardens for California's Monterey Bay

BBC heads to the Californian coast

The Big Blue Live crew is preparing for the first of three episodes on Sunday night, filming from boats, planes and an aquarium studio
Austin Bidwell: The Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England with the most daring forgery the world had known

Victorian fraudster who shook the Bank of England

Conman Austin Bidwell. was a heartless cad who carried out the most daring forgery the world had known
Car hacking scandal: Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked

Car hacking scandal

Security designed to stop thieves hot-wiring almost every modern motor has been cracked
10 best placemats

Take your seat: 10 best placemats

Protect your table and dine in style with a bold new accessory
Ashes 2015: Alastair Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Cook not the only one to be caught in The Oval mindwarp

Aussie skipper Michael Clarke was lured into believing that what we witnessed at Edgbaston and Trent Bridge would continue in London, says Kevin Garside
Can Rafael Benitez get the best out of Gareth Bale at Real Madrid?

Can Benitez get the best out of Bale?

Back at the club he watched as a boy, the pressure is on Benitez to find a winning blend from Real's multiple talents. As La Liga begins, Pete Jenson asks if it will be enough to stop Barcelona
Athletics World Championships 2015: Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jessica Ennis-Hill and Katarina Johnson-Thompson heptathlon rivalry

Beijing witnesses new stage in the Jess and Kat rivalry

The last time the two British heptathletes competed, Ennis-Hill was on the way to Olympic gold and Johnson-Thompson was just a promising teenager. But a lot has happened in the following three years
Jeremy Corbyn: Joining a shrewd operator desperate for power as he visits the North East

Jeremy Corbyn interview: A shrewd operator desperate for power

His radical anti-austerity agenda has caught the imagination of the left and politically disaffected and set a staid Labour leadership election alight
Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief: Defender of ancient city's past was killed for protecting its future

Isis executes Palmyra antiquities chief

Robert Fisk on the defender of the ancient city's past who was killed for protecting its future