It was in one of my early college marketing classes that I learned about the devilishly handsome and incredibly cool Marlboro Man. As a Jersey boy, I’m the farthest thing from that strapping young buck. I, at least, think that’s what they’d call him in the Midwest. Cowboy lingo was never really my thing.

Of course, I also grew up surrounded by smokers. My grandmother was the worst of them; her raspy voice and the smell of her apartment were easy reminders that those cigarettes the cowboys were flaunting were actually pretty disgusting. I didn’t even know at the time they could kill you.

At points, my mother and father were also smokers. They smoked so much the tobacco companies sent us all sorts of free swag. I didn’t think much of it when on visiting day at camp one year my parents brought me a suitcase – a Marlboro red duffel with the logo emblazoned on the side – packed with candy. Smoking might be gross, but at least in my naïveté, it was innocent.

Back to that marketing class… Here I am watching that young suave fella on his bucking bronco take a puff and show me smoking is cool – until you hear the true story.

As it goes, Marlboro Man, of course, smoked a heck of a lot of cigarettes. Up to that time, there were even campaigns about how much doctors loved specific brands of cigarettes. They can’t possibly be bad for you, right? Well, it turns out they were, and the Marlboro Man (and the real life people who portrayed him) met their early deaths at the hands of cigarette smoking. Were we lied to? Maybe. Were the real effects of smoking understood at that time? The answer to that question is a bit blurrier.

Which leads me to our latest version of the Marlboro Man: Our Social Media “Influencers.”

If you happened to watch the new Netflix documentary about the Fyre Festival fiasco, you’ll notice that the festival organizers paid Instagram models lots of cash (without any actual disclaimer) in order to get those models’ followers to purchase tickets. Guess what: it worked! People shelled out upwards of $2,500 per ticket with the idea that they were going to get to party with celebrities, meet models and enjoy world class accommodations while getting to “live their best life” – that’s what the kids say these days.

The actuality? A complete mess – just watch the documentary; it’s pure gold. Were the models to blame for the plight of those who follow them? That’s a question we will continue to have to answer.

Now some bratty kids shelling out thousands of their parents’ money and it blowing up in their faces may earn the laughs of some people out there, understandably. However, we, at this time, have no problem naming our own new “Marlboro Men” throughout the “social sphere,” and it has incredibly dangerous consequences.

Part of the reason we trust doctors is because they go through endless amounts of schooling and training that allows them to give the best advice. Although it takes a physician almost 10 years of hard work to get that MD following their name, it only takes some actor with an Instagram page 5 minutes to do the same. You’ll never go into his office and see his degrees. You’ll never even meet in person. You’ll just trust him.

Unlike the time of the Marlboro Man, there are now millions more products being sold to us every single day. We see these people on Instagram and how they lost 25 pounds in two weeks and we all want it. It plays on our desire to believe and our desperation to (always) want to lose weight. Hey, whatever this thing is worked for some person in Oklahoma so I’m going to order it and take some too. Ten weeks later, you can’t even find the posts that touted this miracle supplement. Your money is gone, your weight remains the same and, hopefully, your health hasn’t been harmed.

I’m not saying you shouldn’t believe some of the stuff you hear on the Internet. I’m just saying you shouldn’t always drink the Marlboro Man’s matcha.

By Brandon Goldstein

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