Posted by Stephanie Startz on November 23, 2009 06:19 PM
It’s certainly not the nicotine that has visitors returning in droves to Marlboro’s website. It’s the curation.
Perhaps it's appropriate that a cigarette brand would have the right ingredients to make a website addictive. Relaunched nine months ago, the Marlboro website has surged with 1.5 million unique visitors a month.
Traffic that size bounty of plenty for any site, the audience figures for Marlboro are astounding considering the brand’s restricted online presence: due to demands of state Attorneys General, the Marlboro website is gated. Visitors must register by providing their full name, address, last four Social Security digits, and indicate that they are customers of the brand.
AdAge notes that gating can kill a website, as it did to Budweiser’s Bud.TV site. Hyped to reach two million unique visitors, Bud.TV became undone by gating measures; the site required visitors to supply name and birth date, to be verified against a sometimes faulty system that prevented many legal drinkers from accessing the site.
Yet Marlboro overcame the problems gating can cause, thanks to the brand's use of a growing digital trend: curation. Curation is more than just aggregating; it’s the thoughtful culling of information from around the web, consolidated in one location as it relates to a specific niche subject. Marlboro curates their web site around an identity closely related to their brand: the iconic western cowboy.
Visitors who make the effort to scale the digital wall surrounding Marlboro’s web site are greeted with a short film titled "True Cowboy," video content centered on extreme sports, and the opportunity to play Blackjack or Poker in a "Marlboro Saloon." They can listen to music from the Marlboro’s Copper music label. If visitors work up an appetite playing cards, they can look up a recipe or search for the country's best chili pits and burger joints. Marlboro also gives tangible rewards: visitors can enter a sweepstakes for a Montana ranch vacation, and print coupons.
Marlboro’s use of curation pushes the notion of a “lifestyle” brand further and can become a critical tool in a brand's arsenal – as long as the niche subject is in line with the brand’s established identity. This addictive site may prove to be a case study in digital branding.