Abstract: Manufacturing Marlboro Country: Transnational Advertising Connections in Marlboro's Hong Kong Advertising Campaign, 1971-1985
The iconic figure of the Marlboro Man and the myth of the American West, individual freedom, and rugged masculinity he symbolizes, has been lauded as one of the most successful advertising campaigns in U.S. history. These quintessentially "American" values are also credited for helping Marlboro maintain its status as the number one selling cigarette brand in the world since the early 1980s. Using the Marlboro advertising campaign in Hong Kong as a case study, this paper explores how local advertising executives at the Leo Burnett advertising agency repositioned Marlboro's failing brand image to create a "new and improved" version of America—and Marlboro Country—for Hong Kong's consumers in the late 1970s. Using oral history interviews of Hong Kong and Western executives who worked on the campaign, combined with a theoretical framework of "transnational connectivities," I argue that as "cultural translators" Chinese executives produced a marketing campaign in which discourses of American nationalism, social prestige, masculinity, and modernity were modified to the changing values of Hong Kong youth culture in the 1970s and thus underscore the historical role transnational advertising agencies have played in creating culturally and commercially appealing constructions of "America" for international consumers.