What advisers can learn from Marlboro Man

Marlboro Man was an influential figure last century.

He sold a lot of cigarettes.

He was the advertising character created by advertising company Leo Burnett in the 1950s to re-launch Marlboro cigarettes for a broader audience. The adverts were conceived to change the market appeal of Phillip Morris’ cigarettes which were originally produced for the female market in the 1920s.

Marlboro man was depicted as a rugged cowboy enjoying a relaxing cigarette, riding back to the ranch after a tough day taming whatever needed to be tamed. In the background were majestic backdrops of wide, open spaces.  The “Come to Marlboro Country” catch-cry pushed Marlboro cigarettes to one of the best selling brands during the 1970s.

Their campaign exceeded all their expectations.



So did their products as they tragically fast-tracked cancer and deaths of a number of the characters used to portray the various Marlboro Men. Marlboro Man was a successful advertising message with disastrous consequences. Every cigarette in some small way reducing the value and quality of the buyer’s life.

For me, “Marlboro Men” epitomises those groups with big promises who care for their own good more than the public good. These groups realise their inability to deliver the images they portray and quite possibly may be aware they are causing more damage long term to the public good.

Financial services marketing experts, product rating agencies and award convenors help build their client’s messages, product releases and web pages appealing to bountiful outcomes provided they purchase a particular ‘low-cost fund’ or securing a special interest rate ‘honeymoon’ or deal with Australia’s best asset-based adviser.

Thankfully sunlight is still the best disinfectant and eventually research, statistics and sentiment unseated any last surviving Marlboro Men from their horses.

This stuff isn’t new.



Back in 380BC Plato appealed to the public good urging his followers, philosophers like Aristotle and clinicians of the time, to understand that a cure of only a part of one’s life should not be attempted without the treatment of the whole of one’s life.

Marketing like Marlboro Man will continue to use Plato’s approach as a drunk uses a lamp-post, more for support than illumination. By pitching any product to our bigger wishes and desired lifestyles, Marlboro Man has again proven that advertising and marketers do not need to make any connection as to how their product helps consumers achieve the promises.

The vast majority of financial advisers and accountants, in the footsteps of Plato, aim to treat the whole of their client’s financial lives. They do their job every day to help influence their clients to the bigger pictures that Marlboro Man could never help his buyers achieve.  The irony is the majority of their clients have been educated by the many Marlboro Man that cheaper funds, higher returns, bigger tax refunds, cheaper loans, crypto-currencies, ETFs, SMSFs or product-based award winners are the obvious tickets to advance.

Advisers, accountants and others fighting through the compliance or Marlboro Man messages working every day to help their clients advance might gain confidence from authors like Thomas Nagle in The Strategy and Tactics of Pricing.

By challenging traditional pricing models based upon costs, Nagle and his co-authors have a simple theory to challenge the Marlboro Men messages.

Price based upon what clients value, rather than on what a product or service provider provides.



Rather than a product discussion, Nagle suggests re-starting client conversations with a value discussion. Once the value is determined, then determine the price that the majority of clients will pay. Then determine a cost structure and if needed, a possible product.

Nagle turns the “cost plus margin” price approach upside down.

He argues starting with the costs creates too many inefficiencies. Products have to come with lashings of features, benefits, comparisons, free parking and other purchasing incentives, all of which intensified the focus on the product rather than what is of value to the client.

Our search for what is of value to each of us and Marlboro Men will be with us forever.

As more works like Nagle’s become more mainstream, researched and adopted, hopefully, Marlboro Men in financial services will take their big empty promises to easier industries. This might allow the remaining advisers, accountants, planners and others to get back to the future – to serve their clients to better achieve the value they seek with the capability aligned with the whole value, not just a product or service part.

That’s the future of advice.

What do you reckon?


If you’re interested to learn more about engaging your clients year in year out on the value they seek, join me for my workshop next Thursday.



This is an extract from Jim’s latest book – What Price Value – due for release Spring ’21

photo_credit: shutterstock_127792097



For over 30 years, Jim has influenced, coached, and consulted advisory firms across Australia. His firm, Certainty Advice Group coaches, trains and is building a growing group of advisory firms delivering comprehensive, unconflicted advice, priced on value. The community of advisory firms aligns with Australia’s highest and only ACCC/IP Australia Certification Mark standard of comprehensive, unconflicted advice – Certainty Advice. He has authored three books regarding financial advisory firms and is due to release his fourth book mid this year – What Price Value.


WordPress Image Lightbox Plugin