Bring Back The Marlboro Man?

Can’t we all just relax after dinner with a cigarette, a cup of coffee and nice piece of cheesecake? Not if the United States government has anything to say about it. And they have plenty to say.

We knew it was coming, but now we’ve seen the grisly images that cigarettes will be required to carry on their packages. In a thematically related story, the front page of the Los Angeles Times Business Section recently featured an article about how restaurant chains will be required to post calorie information before the end of this year.

The pack-a-day smoker will soon have to look at images of rotting teeth, breathing tubes inserted into holes in the throats of smokers and other nasty images over 7,000 times a year. And in the same (clogged) vein, federal law will soon dictate that the Cheesecake Factory inform their diners that one serving of the Godiva Chocolate Cheesecake has 1110 calories and 57 grams of fat.

Emotionally, there’s a part of me that longs for the good old days when there was no doubt what made Frosted Flakes, “Gr-r-reat!” They were called Sugar Frosted Flakes, back then. Or when looking at a pack of cigarettes could make a young man feel as free as a cowboy on the open range. Or when a burger, fries and a piece of pie wasn’t a guilt trip, it was just lunch.

Rationally, I’m a firm believer that people need to be informed.

But do we need really need all these warnings? Are simple pleasures a thing of the past?  Maybe should be required to alert its subscribers that “success on Match could lead to misery. Dating may lead to marriage, where you have a 50/50 shot of ending up bitter and divorced.”

Perhaps New York Mets telecasts should be preceded with the caveat that, “ watching the Mets is known to encourage the frequent use of profane language and risks teaching such language to children in the home.” I know this first hand.

Spirited debate will no doubt continue in business, political and academic settings. But reality dictates that marketers must learn to deal effectively with this outpouring of information.

Everyone, even the cigarette people, have options. Smart players in the restaurant business, McDonald’s in particular, have had great success in adding lower calorie, healthier items to their menu. Most of their customers might still Super-Size it, but they now offer choices that are at least acceptable to a wide range of lifestyles and tastes.

At Starbucks, you can have your coffee cake and eat it too (440 calories), or go with the oatmeal, one of the more perfect foods (protein, fiber, low fat) with 140 calories. The informed choice is yours to make.

Big tobacco? They can play the victim and attempt to revive the fantasy that American adults have the right to smoke cigarettes whenever, wherever and just as often as they like. The better choice would be to embrace who they are. Perhaps leverage the cinematic conclusion of the Harry Potter story with an endorsement from Lord Voldemort: “Embrace the Dark Lord’s Deathly Delight.” Those of us who want to be heroes need our villains, don’t we? And some of us just revel in being bad. No kidding…it’s an image that would attract a significant following.

As The Eagles sang about James Dean:

“The only thing that got you off was breakin’ all the rules…
You were too fast to live, too young to die, Bye Bye.”

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