Bob Norris: The Unsmoking Marlboro Man and the Legacy of an Iconic Campaign

Bob Norris, the very first Marlboro Man, had a chance encounter with fame when he was spotted in a photo alongside the famous John Wayne. Serving as the face of the Marlboro Man for 12 years, it’s surprising to note that Bob never actually smoked a single cigarette. As a responsible parent, he consistently advised his children against smoking. One day, when his kids questioned him about the contradiction between his job and his beliefs, he decided to leave his role as the Marlboro Man immediately.

Initiated in 1955, the Marlboro Man campaign became one of the most astonishing marketing strategies in the history of product promotion. Marlboro’s sales surged from a mere 1% to the fourth best-selling cigarette brand. Accompanying the renowned cowboy figure, the brand developed a second ‘Marlboro Man’ for advertising purposes. This character, a stylish, urban, African-American figure, was specifically designed to captivate the attention of the African-American audience.

A single creative mind, Leo Burnett, was responsible for the conception of numerous iconic advertising mascots, including the Marlboro Man, Jolly Green Giant, Tony the Tiger, Pillsbury Doughboy, and Keebler Elves, among others.

Tragically, several models who assumed the role of the Marlboro Man succumbed to smoking-related illnesses. Among them, Wayne McLaren, another Marlboro Man, passed away from lung cancer. In his final moments, he left a poignant message: “Take care of the children. Tobacco will kill you, and I am living proof of it.”

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