Marlboro Man, the Real One, Dies at 85

January 15, 2015 8:40 pm Last Updated: January 16, 2015 8:43 am

There have been many Marlboro Men, but many would agree Darrell Winfield was the real one. On Monday he joined the growing line of Marlboro Men no longer living.

Darrell Winfield nailed the role of a rugged cowboy—he was one. After an ad campaign featuring tough-looking models catapulted the cigarette brand in the 1950s, Leo Burnett, the advertiser hired by Phillip Morris, looked for someone more real.

In 1968, working on a Wyoming ranch, Winfield got spotted for his unmistakable authenticity. He became the new face of Marlboro, which lasted for over 20 years.

But apart from being called to photo-shoots several times a year, he didn’t change much in his life.

He loved horses, rodeo, ranching, and the cowboy way of life. “He liked to tease, was quite a character, and never met a stranger,” his obituary states.

He was also taken by the Native American spirituality and carried a Native American name “Strong Mountain.”

He loved horses, rodeo, ranching, and the cowboy way of life.

For 66 years he was married to Lennie Winfield. They had a son and five daughters.

If he hadn’t been the Marlboro Man, his “life would have basically been the same,” he said during a 1986 interview.

Success of Marlboro Man

Marlboro dates back to the 1920s. But today few would recognize the original brand. With a slogan of “mild as may,” the filtered cigarettes were marketed to women—with little success though.

By 1954 Marlboro managed to sell less than 20 million packs a year, not even one percent of the market.

Phillip Morris wanted to change the marketing to appeal to men and the job fell to Chicago advertiser Leo Burnett.

While many advertisers focused on the perceived health benefits of the filters, Burnett had another idea in mind. He wanted to appeal to men by showing a tough guy smoking Marlboro. The packaging was switched to more solid paper and the v-shaped red and white pattern.

As the first manly figure for the campaign, Burnett picked a cowboy—and hit the jackpot. In a year, Marlboro was among the top, selling billions of packs. By 1957, sales jumped to almost 20 billion packs per year.

At the same time the anti-smoking campaign was picking up steam. Information about how harmful smoking is, even with a filter, started to surface in the media. Marlboro sales hit a plateau.

But Burnett wasn’t ready to surrender to facts. In the early 1960s, he decided to switch cowboy-looking models with actual cowboys trying to infuse his marketing model with more authenticity.

That’s when Darrell Winfield came into the picture. From 1968 to 1989, he became the fixed star of the brand.

Why it Worked

Over the years researchers tried to debunk why Marlboro Man delivered so well.

Piotr Wrzosinski, a sociologist focusing on marketing in highly regulated industries, distilled the elements of success to three points in his 2014 article on k-message.com.

The Marlboro Man was portrayed as an American “explorer” archetype “known from ancient myths,” Wrzosinski argued.

Moreover, the figure was portrayed as a romantic ideal of 1970s middle-class American men.

“The Marlboro Man is often depicted in profile, emphasizing the straight nose, square jaw, and furrowed brow over an intense, purposeful look in the eyes,” states a 1992 paper by Barry Vacker, now associate professor of media and cultural studies at Temple University.

“[M]ore handsome than any particular man, more real than the real…symbolizing reason, independence, efficacy, egoism, and explicitly or implicitly, republican liberty,” Vacker stated.

At last, the mountains and prairies depicted in the ads draw the audience as a natural place of exploration or safety, Wrzosinski states.

Browsing through images of Darrell Winfield on his wife’s Facebook page, the academic explanations of his magazine self may seem farfetched. Still, to his family he was a “true” cowboy.

They will remember him team roping or playing Gin Rummy and Backgammon with his friends, caring for his wife, children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren.

The obituary doesn’t state a cause of death but mentioned he previously suffered a stroke.