Absurdly Driven looks at the world of business with a skeptical eye and a firmly rooted tongue in cheek. 

Americans have changed.

We're more clean-living. We eat organic. We drink less beer. We're more afraid that the Earth is going to burn to a crisp. We're even inclined to do something about it.

Our purities do, though, have their limits.

That's why I'm a touch numbed by new information provided by research company Kantar Millward Brown.

It's just released its list of 100 Most Valuable US Brands.

You won't be surprised that Google, Apple, Amazon, Microsoft and Facebook are the top 5. (Although I might suggest that the Facebook brand is becoming increasingly tarnished.)

But look who's lurking at number 10, with its brand value having gone up 5 percent over the last year.

No, it's not Equifax. It's Marlboro. 

The cigarette peddlers actually cowboy up to joint third place in KMB's Meaningful Difference category. 

Only Apple and Amazon are ahead of it. It's tied with, oh, Disney. Now those are curious bedfellows.

The research report offers that Marlboro "has been the largest cigarette brand among women since the 1980s." 

It also owns a healthy -- depending on your perspective -- 41 percent of the US market, where it's marketed by the gender neutral company name Altria, rather than the rather more swashbuckling Philip Morris, as it is in other parts of the world.

Kantar Millward Brown describes the brand as "cool, tough and adventurous." 

Perhaps you'd got the impression that Marlboro was moving away from cigarettes and into plaid shirts, large belts and another style elements of cowboy life.

Yet, according to this survey, it's still the cigarettes that keep the horse cantering.

You might wonder what methodology brought Marlboro to these wheezing heights.

Well, Kantar Millward Brown creates its brand equity scores by, of course, looking at financial performance. But it also talks to a lot of consumers to gauge their feelings.

And those feelings seem to be positive.

Some might muse that one way of creating brand loyalty to create a product to which people become addicted. 

It's odd, though, that Marlboro is ranked higher than Coke, Starbucks, Nike and Disney.

Especially when cigarette smoking is actually in decline.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that, in 2015, 15 out of every 100 Americans smoked. This compares to 21 out of 100 in 2005.

Of course, one area that Marlboro and its ilk target the most is the young. They are, after all, the future for a brand. 

This might explain why it released its "Don't Be A Maybe. Be Marlboro."

This, some might feel, was an especially insidious attempt to make the young feel that smoking was all about being adventurous, as opposed to, say, life-threatening.

Here's a little snippet of it.

That is the logic -- and, depending on your perspective, gall -- of one of America's Top 10 Most Valuable Brands.

You might also enjoy John Oliver's more expansive view of tobacco companies' marketing here.

Still, we're talking about a perfectly legal product that just happens to leave an especially noxious smell every time it's used.

Do our values define us? I will leave that subject of cogitation to you.

Published on: Nov 18, 2017
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.