WHAT WE THINK ABOUT WHAT YOU THINK ABOUT.
Conventional wisdom is that advertising works by hitting consumers with product attributes and then tying those attributes to advantages that accrue to the consumer. One problem with this approach is that it is so cerebral. It assumes that people make purchasing decisions by way of logic. This is not totally true in any category. But in some categories it is barely true at all.
Consumer taste testing has consistently revealed that consumers (even heavy consumers) of American beer, cigarettes, and coffee cannot identify the brand to which they claim to be loyal in a three-sample blind test. So, you can't really differentiate on taste. Back in the 1960s, Leo Burnett began to experiment with some emotional approaches. They used icons (like the Jolly Green Giant). And in the case of Marlboro, they built a strategy around a psychographic. They took a struggling "ladies' cigarette" and repositioned it as the rugged "cowboy" brand. The cigarette for the "Marlboro Man." In the process they saved the brand and built an advertising icon.
This commercial (while it sells a product that is arguably unethical to sell) is incredibly gutsy. The shadowy look of the thing. A soundtrack almost devoid of copy. The use of music as the driver. It was on the leading edge of a huge change in the way agencies and brands thought about consumer propositions.