The $80 Billion Branding Secret From The Most Controversial Company

Have you ever wondered…

What does it take to build a $80.7 billion International brand?

Today, let’s find out…

(Source: Pixabay)

The Story

It’s the year 1954.

In front of you is a vast, open landscape. 

The brilliant blue sky stretches endlessly above deserted plains, craggy mountains, verdant bushes, and untamed adventures. It’s the wild west.

In the center of everything…

There’s a man.

He’s wearing a dark brown, wide-brimmed hat that casts a shadow over his weathered face – revealing only the bottom half with a rough stubble. 

He’s sitting astride a beautiful beast, looking relaxed yet commanding like the natural leader in this vast wilderness.

When you take a closer look…

The man is holding a cigarette in his right hand, with a matter-of-fact nature. Deliberate yet effortlessly.

He brings the cigarette to his lips and takes a drag, letting the fume diffuse around him like the curtain call of a great show.

In the background, you can hear the herd of cattle in the distance with dynamic country music – a sense of life and movement.

Yes, you’ve probably guessed it by now…









This is the Marlboro Man Ad, the iconic rugged cowboy that dominated TV advertising for over 40 years.

Philip Morris created the ultimate masculine identity for generations of Americans – promoting a harmful product and building the largest cigarette brand in the world.

In 2022, Philip Morris pulled in $80.7 billion in revenue.

Even today, you can still find dumb teenagers who think it’s ‘cool’ to smoke.

This is why most marketers use the Marlboro Man Ad as the textbook example of history’s most successful branding campaign.


Today, I want to point you to the other side of the story.

The Missing Half…

The second half, where nobody really talks about…

Philip Morris did NOT create the masculine identity with ONE ad.

In 1989, Philip Morris was spending nearly half of the total ~$636M in domestic cigarette advertising budget. 

The Marlboro Man ad series aired over 45 years, from 1954 to 1999.

There was even a record of Philip Morris spending $300M searching for a new Marlboro Man (after the most iconic one, Darrell Winfield, retired in the late 1980s).

All of that means…

It takes FREQUENT EXPOSURE to create an identity for your company (or product).

You cannot expect it to happen with one ad… or even one viral post. It’s usually the result of a massive advertising budget.

Studies have shown that forming any identity takes at least six months. 

(Because most humans forget ~50% of new information within an hour… and up to 70% within a day. On the other hand… Do you know what can remember objects for weeks? Goldfish. 😅)

And this brings us to a hard truth…

Even though identity marketing (aka branding) is the most effective way to attract raving fans…

But unless you’re a billion-dollar Listed Company…

You cannot rely on advertising for long-term branding.

(You can’t rely on social media either because you only get about 5% organic exposure on most platforms these days.)

The Alternative to Brand Advertising?

Email marketing

“Wait… Isn’t email marketing DEAD?!”

No, email marketing is still the most effective marketing channel today. According to the latest 2023 statistics:

  • Email generates $42 for every $1 spent.
  • Marketers have found a 760% increase in revenue from building lists.
  • 50.7% of subscribers buy something from a marketing email at least once per month.

(Hint: If you’re worried about retention, this is your answer.)

The problem is…

Most businesses are doing email marketing completely wrong.

Common Marketing Mistakes

Mistake #1: Sending too few emails

“I don’t want to piss off my list. They’ll be angry if I send too many emails.”

Most businesses are afraid to send too many emails due to the unsubscribe rate.

Here’s the bad news:

You will get some unsubscribes in every broadcast. 

That’s the name of the game.

The good news:

Most of these unsubscribes are people who will never buy from you. 

In fact, I’m arguing that the #1 reason why GOOD prospects unsubscribe is the opposite because you’re sending too few emails…

…they simply forgot about you.

Keep in mind the average open rate for e-commerce across all industries is 21.33% – according to MailChimp.

This means subscribers are only seeing one out of five broadcasts.

If you’re sending only one email weekly, your subscribers see one email per MONTH. (Do you remember what you ate for dinner last month?)

When people forget about you, this is when people unsubscribe and report spam.

Not to mention…

If you’re not emailing your list… and it’s not making you money… why spend the resources building and keeping that list at all?

So, what should you do instead?


Send one email a day(-ish).

This keeps you top-of-mind for all your subscribers.

But what do you say in all these emails? 

(30 topics a MONTH is a lot to brainstorm, right? 🤯)

This leads us to the 2nd mistake…

Mistake #2: Relying on flash sales

Imagine this:

It’s been 20 years since you graduated. One day, an old classmate reaches out to you – out of the blue – wanting to connect. 

You’re confused.

You could barely recall his name…

Were you two close back then?

Out of good faith, you sacrifice your weekend and decide to meet him at a lovely local cafe on Saturday afternoon…

When he finally arrives…

He starts to pitch you some MLM bulldog that sounds ridiculous and scammy.


Super annoying, right? 😡

And that’s how most e-commerces are doing their emails.

Because most brands don’t know what to write in their broadcasts…

…they always default to discounts and deadlines.

“50% off discount, TODAY ONLY. Expiring at midnight!!”

The result? 

Most businesses end up emailing only when there’s a sale…

Leaving a bad taste in the subscribers’ mouth.

(I call this the lazy email marketing way – slap a big fat discount, give it a deadline, and call it a day.)

So, what’s the right way to do email marketing?

Make all your emails fun and entertaining to read.

The Right Mindset: 

“It’s okay if they don’t buy anything today. If they read my email, they’ll at least find it interesting. This alone will make their day.”

The goal is to entertain.

Turn your broadcast into a daily show that your subscribers actively look forward to. And when the timing is right, transactions will happen without any hard sell.

 Mistake #3: Focusing on design

Here’s a challenge – 

Go to your inbox.

Look at all the emails you’ve received from e-commerce sites last week. 

Then, ask yourself…

Which of these emails does NOT look like an “advertising flier”?

I’m betting – none.

They all look alike.

They’re all boring.

They’re all “brochures” pretending to be an email.

(Not even trying really hard.)

(Photo by Duskfall Crew on Unsplash)

And this is the problem – most email marketers are too lazy to create an email that tells a story… an email that looks and feels like a letter from a friend…

Instead, they focus on designing a pretty format, using many images/GIFs, and piling up the content with stock photos.

But if you’ve ever watched someone swiping through Instagram…

You know how modern people look at “images.”

Look. Swipe. Look. Swipe. Swipe. Swipe. Look. Swipe.

We are trained to ignore and skim through images. Therefore, image-heavy broadcasts do very little to build rapport and relationships with your list.


“People don’t read ads. They read what interests them. Sometimes it’s an ad.”

– Howard Luck Gossage, 1950’s Mad Men

And that’s why, in my 8+ years of marketing experience…

Emails with more words, stories, and “human”… emails that are “ugly”… actually yield a higher CLV (customer lifetime value) in the long run.

Speaking of the long run…

 Mistake #4: Playing a short-term strategy

One of the most common (and useless) advice in email marketing is…

“Have you split-test it?”

Marketers love to A/B test the subject line…

…the preview

…the CTA button v.s. Hyperlink.

🙄 *eye-rolling*

But if you understand human psychology, you’ll know how ridiculous this is.

Of course, a subject line with “50% off” will out-pull one without.

Of course, a preview with “expires tonight” will triumph.

But that does NOT mean it benefits you in the long game.

And this is why Seth Godin once famously said in an interview:

“If you optimize a website long enough, it becomes a porn site.”

This is because all of these “strategies” and “advice” are driven by a short-term mindset. When you want…

– The highest open rate regardless of intention

– The highest click-through rate without worrying about trust

– The most sales ASAP disregarding lifetime value

But I’m going to challenge you to think long-term.

Look at your email marketing from an investor’s point of view.

What can you do today to increase the amount of “happy” customers?

Customers who truly enjoyed the experience of buying from you.

After all…

80% of your potential customers will ONLY become a customer after being on your list for over 90 days.

– Legendary Marketer Dean Jackson

When you think about it from this perspective, everything changes.

And you’ll want to avoid the next mistake…

Mistake #5: Sounding like Toby Flenderson

Toby Flenderson – from the American version of “The Office” – is known for his notably dull personality.

Here’s a scene…

Toby is sitting in the corner of the office. His workspace is slightly apart from the others, distancing him from his peers.

He opens his mouth…

Wait, did he say something?

Nobody noticed.

His voice – monotonous like the principal’s speech at graduation – can put you to sleep with the lack of energy.

And this is how most emails make people feel.

Bland. Boring. Unexciting.

When it’s easier to tune out than to listen… people WILL ignore you.

(It’s the least resistant, right?)


Write with passion.

Word paint in detail.

Tell stories.

Become an email storyteller to connect with your audience and entertain them with every broadcast you send. (Or find an email storyteller to help you with your email marketing strategy. 😉)

The Conclusion

If you’re in a very competitive market… and you want to stand out from the noise… the best way is to create an identity for your followers.

The masculine.

The rebel.

The minimalist.

(Whichever makes sense to you.)

When you’ve successfully shaped that identity – and connected to your brand – people will do everything in their power to maintain that identity, including:

Camping overnight for early access…

Buying, promoting, and defending your products whenever possible…

Tattooing your logo on their body…

But to create this kind of cult-like behavior, you must show up regularly and frequently in your prospects’ lives.

The most effective (& cheapest) way to do this is through email marketing.

Email marketing is a channel where you can reach your audience – with a click of your finger – without spending more of your advertising budget.

All you have to do is – 

Start with one story a day.

And the selling will take care of itself.