Utah andPhilip Morris's
Marlboro Adventure Team

Utah may not seem like a money-maker for Philip Morris -- the state has long boasted the lowest adult smoking rate in the U.S.*. Unbenownst to many, however, Philip Morris's use of the state's public lands has played a key role in boosting the company's profits around the world.

Utah is the staging ground for one of Philip Morris's most successful international advertising campaigns: the Marlboro Adventure Team. While Philip Morris is not allowed to advertise on television or on billboards in the U.S., Utah's Moab desert regularly serves as the scenic background for the company's television and billboard advertising around the world, and as the site of its annual desert adventure. Some examples:

  • Malaysia: Television advertisements for the Marlboro Adventure rely on fast-paced music and scenes of participants galloping on horses through the Western landscape. For footage see Infact's video "Making a Killing"
  • Germany: U.S. GPTC participant Mary Reynard reports that a German friend's daughter participated in a Philip Morris extravaganza in the Moab desert earlier this month. The opportunity "to build fences in the U.S." [a cowboy service project?!] was widely advertised throughout Germany. Participants of the all-expense trip to Moab were given $200 spending money and a carton of Marlboro cigarettes, among other perks.


In preparation for a future GPTC activity, we would like you and your partner to help us gather more examples of how Philip Morris:

  • Advertises its Marlboro Adventure Team around the world
  • Employs U.S. scenes (Moab and elsewhere) in its advertising outside the U.S.
  • Promotes trips to U.S. cities and locations

For a more detailed account of the Marlboro Adventure Team experience, from a journalist's perspective, see below. For examples of U.S. imagery in tobacco advertising abroad, see http://www.essentialaction.org/tobacco/photos/usa.html

* In 1999, Utah's adult smoking rate was 13.9% compared to 22.7% nationally and 31.5% in Nevada (CDC)
** Countries where BAT has the largest market share may want to collect examples of European imagery and themes in tobacco advertising. See http://www.essentialaction.org/tobacco/photos/uk.html

Essential Action
Global Partnerships for Tobacco Control

P.O. Box 19405 ~ Washington, DC 20036
Tel: +1 202-387-8030 ~ Fax: +1 202-234-5176
Email: [email protected]

With the Marlboro Man leading the way, our wilderness is being tamed, once and for all

Feb. 6, 2001
By Tom Washington


Against the backdrop of wind-eroded red rocks in the desert outskirts of Moab, Utah, a bus the size of a jet airliner pulls to a stop in a cloud of dust. Eighteen members of the Marlboro Adventure Team and an entourage of foreign journalists step off the bus. The journalists are here to cover the company's month-long, all-expenses-paid outdoors vacation in which four teams of handpicked participants will raft the Colorado River rapids, power their way up sand dunes by jeep and race across the desert on motorcycles and ATV's in the name of high-powered adrenaline adventure -- footage from which will be broadcast overseas in Marlboro ad campaigns and as promotion for the next year's event.

In response to its rigorous international promotion campaign aimed at young adults, Philip Morris claims to receive nearly 1 million adventure team applications worldwide for its annual desert event. After conducting telephone interviews and a boot-camp selection process meant to measure charisma and athletic ability, the cigarette maker whittles its final choices down to 100 men and women aged 18 to 25 -- most of them nonsmokers -- who come from countries with the highest smoking rates in the world.

Moab has more than 5,000 miles of off-road trails. Mining companies carved many of them in the 1950s to reach pockets of uranium. The trails wind through sandstone cliffs and sand washes hidden by salt cedar scrub bush and pinyon. When the mineral boom went bust, a different industry took over. Today, Moab and its rocky environs are a top destination for outdoor recreation. The town hosts millions of visitors annually -- cyclists, climbers and ATV enthusiasts among others. Its chic center, a modest strip of shops just a couple of miles long, offers all the tourist amenities from art galleries to smoothie outposts.

For at least a century, policymakers looked at logging, grazing and mining as the best means for turning a profit on America's natural resources. Now it's the land itself that's the cash cow. Big companies like Philip Morris are part of that process, taking their products to the outdoors and roping us into their scheme through a kind of subliminal seduction of the way we see nature.

Philip Morris, for example, would have you believe the West is about a man on a horse roping cattle and taking cigarette breaks against the view of a snowcapped peak. It's an association that the company drills into its team members (and those who watch the footage in ads back home) as they experience the American outdoors -- as presented by Marlboro. The links between nature and cigarettes, and between the outdoors and Marlboro-sponsored adventure sports, are cemented as the landscape becomes merely a backdrop for smoking and desert toys.

I asked a Bureau of Land Management staff person if he thought there was something illogical about a branch of the federal government issuing Philip Morris a public land use permit under the pretense of outdoor adventure, given the laws against tobacco advertising in the U.S. Technically, of course, the company isn't breaking any laws. As long as no Americans take part in the event and as long as the event originates outside U.S. borders and Philip Morris is careful not to display the traditional red, white and black Marlboro jeep in the desert, they're off the hook. But even given the murky legalities of Marlboro's ad scheme, should we be using public lands to sell products?

Two final products come out of Moab's Marlboro Adventure. After dinner, on the final evening in the desert, team members approach the stage to receive diplomas for their achievement in conquering the wild. Journalists covering the event are given a collection of the week's finest images on CD. Meanwhile, the Philip Morris ad team brings us one step closer to taming the Wild West, to reducing the frontier into a computer-enhanced vision of fun and adventure without even the threat of a rattlesnake bite.