Brand building with storytelling photography.

Brand building with storytelling photography is the most powerful way to develop a brand. Brand building with storytelling photography builds powerful connections in an audience by producing positive associations within the psyche of the target audience – Nobody did this better than the tobacco industry – So come on, kids! Lets learn about how cool it is to chug on tabs!

What Marlboro Man can teach us about brand building and lifestyle advertising.

Avant Commercial - Storytelling photography for brand building and digital marketing - Phil on a shoot at Triumph Motorcycles - Solent.
Phil on a shoot – photographing Triumph motorcycles

Lifestyle advertising is less concerned with the actual product being sold. Instead, it tries to make an emotional connection with an audience to sell them the idea of the brand, aiming to illustrate it with photography loaded with positive cues.

“Today we are all familiar with the concept of lifestyle advertising, even if not consciously. Lifestyle advertising tries to connect emotionally with the viewers, and it is focused on feelings, values, or status symbols. It doesn’t want to sell the product. It pushes to awaken feelings and create connections. All of us are overwhelmed by this kind of marketing, but it is undoubtedly the most effective one.”

Lifestyle marketing history

Before Marlboro Man, cigarette ads were based on science, “Doctors agree smoking will help your cough, Teachers say smoking makes you smarter, Dieticians say smoking makes you thin, Statistics show less than 1% of people in the World (under 8) die from smoking related illnesses. That sort of thing – they were dubious claims, but also dull.

In the 1970’s the average American saw around 500 ads per day. These days, it’s from 5,000 to 10,000 ads a day (2) – in various forms. There’s more access to us through T.V, Radio, the internet and social media. We are addicted to the devices we carry that receive ads and deliver them to us every hour of every day. In order to stand out from the multitude of messages the average person receives, marketeers need to be more creative with their delivery.

Lifestyle marketing developments

Marlboro won the fight to be the top brand of cigarette in the World with a 30 year campaign. Marlboro Man became the brand symbol that promoted their deathsticks  with the premise that cowboys are cool and you can smoke like a cowboy – even though you live in Brentford, drive a Vauxhall Nova and wear a polyester suit, (not a Stetson and chaps) to work in your insurance company as an accounts clerk – plus, you’re called Nigel. 

Marlboro was the first brand to commit to lifestyle marketing. They started something revolutionary – purposefully igniting an emotional connection with a customer through advertising. Using evocative imagery to get customers to absorb their messages, embedding the company’s ethos within the psyche of the audience, strategically manipulating the psychology of people with the sole purpose of making them want to smoke Marlboro. 

We’re kinda used to this type of marketing, now, but it is still the most effective way to reach your customers

Marlboro were the first brand to sell the idea of their product, to sell it as a symbol. This was not just some coincidence, a fluke that came about because a copy editor missed a deadline for a magazine ad, so hacked together an image of a cowboy with a glib remark pasted onto it.

Planting the image of the Marlboro Man within the psyche of the entire World was accomplished through storytelling.

The Marlboro Man campaign was the brainchild of the marketing genius Leo Burnett. (3) Marlboro invested millions on his strategy to promote their products, which was designed to make people associate Marlboro with exciting lifestyles –  Seductively manipulating men with images of cowboys smoking. 

The photos told stories that reinforced their existing inner bias to the masculine stereotype, the American Dream and the Wild West. A profile of the character developed within these men with each exposure to the theme. Customers would aspire to be Marlboro Man. When sucking down on a Marlboro, men would imagine themselves looking like The Marlboro Man. 

Brand building & marketing psychology

Marlboro utilised groundbreaking psychology research on human behaviours and predictable reactions to sell smokes – making Philip Morris a leading manufacturer of cigarettes worldwide – producing over 740 billion cigarettes a year. (4)

Marlboro Man has a weather beaten face of a Cowboy, there’s a fresh plume of smoke rising past the satisfied look on his face, a face of a man who has travelled, worked hard and has a million stories in his eyes. He’s going to drag on his smoke, look at you wistfully and divulge these stories to you as you pluck up the courage to ask him for one.

The simple tagline of “Come where the flavour is..”  strikes right at the part of your inner psyche that makes you imagine the experience of smoking a Marlboro. You’re going to buy some, with a pack of those red tip matches to strike one to life on the stubble on your chin, the World will pass you by as you wheeze in a drag and savour the flavour. (Flavour? In a cigarette? What flavour is that? The sweet taste of an ashtray? They were different times, a time when putting paprika on a chicken was exotic). 

Storytelling photography is the most important element of your digital marketing.

For your own business, you have to predict how the imagery you are using will be received.

Many businesses decide a budget for their new website. Aspirations are high, expectation is even higher: The new website is going to boost sales, the business is going to grow massive as soon as it’s launched, the new ecommerce section is going to streamline sales and soon we will need a new warehouse to keep all the stock in.

Then the bean counters come along and make cuts to budgets, because the web designer is more expensive than we thought, hosting is a lot of money and working out the design is costing a fortune. You’re spending thousands on your website, it functions brilliantly, but in order to afford the superb UX, the bean counter cut the budget for imagery – no longer will you be getting an expert professional photographer, but there’s a guy in the HR department who got a good camera for Christmas and loves taking photos –

So now, when people land on your new website – they are presented with a set of mediocre images the HR guy took in a morning wandering around the office.

If people land and your website and see crap photos, their first impression is that your entire business is crap. You’re a mediocre company. Your website is a crap place to be. It is ridiculously difficult to repair this first impression. Every click through the website is reluctant, it is not a nice experience, (however simple and intuitive it is), to sift through the mire of boring imagery. 
Great photography will strengthen your brand, rapidly communicating to your clients the high quality of your products or services, making deep connections within your clients about your beliefs as a business, what you do, what makes you stand out from your competitors and ultimately make you a more attractive prospect to those researching who to spend their money with.

Storytelling photography is the most powerful way to tantalise the human psyche in digital communications.

Its impact is immediate, the effects are long lasting and if used correctly, photography can manipulate website users to engage further with you.

Marlboro knew this – Marketing professionals and large brands use all the same methods used by Marlboro, today – just to sell health foods, skin care products and creatine muscle supplements to bodybuilders – the lessons from the Marlboro Man campaign are still taught in marketing studies at all levels. Research that was made in the late 1950’s, through to the present day, is tried and tested and proven in the success of numerous marketing campaigns.

The one lesson that stands out is that storytelling photography works. It works at all levels of business, whether you are a small family bakery or a worldwide brand. People engage with and are stimulated by photography more so than any other medium – except video- reactions to video are bonkers – but that’s another blog – and that one has more to do with vanity metrics. Tune in next week for that… and don’t smoke. You are not a cowboy.

**3 Marlboro Man models died of smoking related illnesses in the 30 year campaign. Don’t smoke. No data is available on whether any photographers died during the campaign.


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