Heavy Metal Madness: We've Come a Long Way, Maybe
Sometimes when I most doubt the existence of God, I have to remind myself that for some reason only attributable to divine intervention, I did not turn out to be a smoker. By all rights I should have been a two-pack-a-day Lucky Strike man. I certainly inherited the smoking gene. I once defined two of the traits to look for in a good friend as smoking and gardening.
But despite being the offspring of two non-filter Camel smokers, I never took up the habit, and only once, at about age 11, did I even put a cigarette to my lips -- and that in the secrecy of the bathroom. I was about to go trick-or-treating as a Tareyton smoker, compete with black eye, plastic cigarette and T-shirt that proudly stated "Us Tareyton Smokers Would Rather Fight Than Switch." I guess I thought I needed to actually experience my "character," though on previous Halloweens I did not secretly put out fires in the bathroom, force "mateys" to walk the plank, or rise from the dead and eat flesh.
The inspriation for my Halloween costume.
That first-and-only puff wasn't a bad experience -- mostly it was a let down. I simply didn't see the point. I've tolerated cigarettes in my friends and lovers since then, but the temptation to smoke never presented itself again. My substitute addictions could be the subject of other columns, but suffice to say I've never felt superior as a non-smoker.
My parents were not joyful or satisfied smokers, unlike all those people in the television and magazine ads I saw. They did not light up a cigarette, draw in the smoke, hold it, and expel with a sense of relief and pleasure. Rather, they pinched puffs reluctantly with a look on their faces similar to mine when I clean the yard of dog waste.
These smokers took pleasure in their habit.
Smoking was a necessary chore in my house, and in my mother's safety-first world, a potentially dangerous one at that. To my young mind, smoking carried with it not the sort of health risks that damaged your lungs and heart, but rather the kind that resulted in the house burning down with everyone in it. Cleaning up ashtrays, verifying (over and over again) that all cigarettes were extinguished before leaving the house, and tracking down the whereabouts of matches was exhausting and way too much trouble.
A Little Something to Steady the Nerves
Of course, now I'm thankful for not being a smoker and for not having to go through the hardship and humiliation of quitting. My generation is arguably the last that can be said to be part of the great deception of tobacco. Even though the health risks were clear for some time, there was a national consciousness of denial that still presented smoking as "refreshing," "cool," and something legitimate to relieve stress and calm nerves.
In these ads from 1950, Marlboros were promoted as a cigarette for mothers. Thankfully, this notion never caught on, and later that decade ad man Leo Burnett helped the company reposition Marlboros as a rugged man's cigarette by inventing the cowboy Marlboro Man. Until that time, filter cigarettes were considered wimpy, and not for real men.
In 1956, cigarette companies were still promoting smoking as a remedy to tense nerves and as a way to avoid "yipping like a terrier," as in this ad for Camels. Because of FTC rules regulating the direct claim of medical benefits, Camel made the indirect link between smoking pleasure and a more pleasing disposition. Below, Camel's famous T-Zone philosophy, which held that Camels, "and only Camels" caused no throat irritation even after 30 days!
It didn't hurt that millions and millions of dollars were spent to advertise the virtues of smoking and the social benefits it brought. Even as smoking became less justifiable, advertisers pitched it as an important symbol of free choice, even if unpopular. Kind of like being a Democrat these days.
By the 1960s and '70s, many tobacco companies were admitting in their ads that smoking was a "rebel" act and began picturing smokers as exercising their rights as the minority they were becoming.
Cigarettes are still advertised, of course, only now tobacco companies have to look for indirect ways of reaching consumers -- race-car sponsorships, nightclub giveaways, and the few media outlets that are too greedy to ban them. Working the creative side of a cigarette campaign is something done by junior account execs or cranky old ones too jaded to care. It was once a source of pride to come up with a successful slogan like "You've come a long way, baby," "I'd walk a mile for a Camel", or "A silly millimeter longer." But we no longer give awards to the people who dream up Joe Camel, or praise them for their savvy in luring young smokers to the brand.
Looking at the anti-smoking victories in the last 30 years by groups like the American Cancer Society and the Federal Trade Commission, it is easy to think that the world was previously oblivious to the dangers of smoking. Yet from the very beginning, the battle over claims made by tobacco producers has been fierce, and much of the history of cigarette advertising is about countering the perception that smoking was harmful to your health.
Before regulations prevented it, many cigarette companies spoke openly about the medical advantages of their brand. Here, in early Luck Strike ads, the benefits of "toasted" tobacco are hyped. Also, one of the first references to the famous Lucky slogan to "reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet." That campaign is credited with bringing a large number of women to the ranks of smoking.
Thank You America, Again
Like the virulent spread of McDonalds, Levi's or "peace keeping," smoking has its firm roots in America. Tobacco in its original state is native only to North America and was used by the Mayans and other native cultures as early as 1000 BC to get a mild buzz. We don't know if there was an anti-tobacco movement among Mayan healers, but we do know that as early as 1493 one of Columbus's men, Rodrigo de Jerez, was jailed for three years in his native Spain when he lit up a cigar brought back from Cuba.
Despite this first round of discouragement, there was no stopping the tobacco craze, and by 1604 King James I of England felt the need to publish a treatise titled "A Counterblast to Tobacco," in which he described the plant as "an invention of Satan." King James instituted the first tobacco ban, outlawing it in British pubs. These bans did what you would expect -- they made tobacco even more popular.
During the same time period, Michael Feodorovich, the Romanov Czar, declared mere possession of tobacco a crime in Russia with severe (and painful) punishments, including slitting of the lips and public flogging. In Turkey, India, and Persia, tobacco users were relieved of their habit by the death penalty. And in 1600 if you lit up anywhere near a church, you were considered excommunicated by Pope Clement VIII.
But like every good habit-forming drug, tobacco took hold and became an economic force that was impossible to contain. By the mid-1800s, the modern cigarette came on the scene, and the first factory to manufacture packs of these tasty products opened in Walworth, England.
The cigarette finally put tobacco in a more convenient and portable delivery mechanism, and popularity began to soar. There were a few dissenting voices; for example, in 1858 the British medical journal The Lancet published one of the first scientific studies on the ill effects of smoking. But over the next few decades, war, industrialization, and a huge investment in cigarette advertising contributed to a rapid rise in the number of smokers, and the beginnings of fierce competition among brands.
An early creative for Admiral Cigarettes.
All along, tobacco companies acknowledged the controversy surrounding the impact of smoking on health -- at times claiming great health benefits to smoking, and at others promoting the lower tar and less-harmful ingredients of various brands. There was even a brand called NoHarm in 1927 designed to appeal to the more health-conscious addict. And for those smokers who didn't want to hear about any of it, there were brands like Alpine and Spring, complete with images of waterfalls and pristine snow-covered peaks.
Spud Cigarettes, a popular brand from Phillip Morris, was advertised here in 1935 as the cigarette for heavy smokers, and at one time claimed that smoking even three-packs a day could be achieved without ill effects, and all the time keeping your "mouth happy."
If They Say It, It Must be True
Advertising of all sorts of products was troublesome as we passed the Industrial Revolution and entered into the media-entertainment era that was characterized by national and even global brands and the distribution systems necessary to support them. Advertising went from being the boastful claims of street-corner patent-medicine salesmen to campaigns that were influencing millions of radio, print, and television consumers. The government increasingly stepped in to make sure that commerce was based on fairness and facts. The tobacco industry was one of the first targets, despite its size and influence in Washington and elsewhere.
Over the years the Federal Trade Commission and its predecessor agencies attempted to regulate the claims of cigarette companies, first going after the health claims and celebrity endorsements so popular at the beginning of the century. But it took the Surgeon General's famous report linking smoking to cancer in 1964 to light a fire under Congress so that advertising bans and the addition of warning statements could be achieved.
Everyone got in on the cigarette endorsement act, include a young Ronald Reagan (above) and Rock Hudson, below. By 1930, the FTC had already prohibited tobacco companies from using endorsement ads from people who had not actually used the product, so these two were the real thing.
First to go was television advertising, which had become the dominant vehicle for cigarette companies and was banned after a final Virginia Slims ad was broadcast in 1971. Radio advertising was restricted shortly thereafter, and though some attempts have been made to ban print and outdoor advertising for tobacco products, the money is just too good, and without the whole "public airwaves" hook, there isn't much the government can do.
Cigarettes as Christmas gifts were promoted heavily throughout the 1950s and 1960s, here hawked by former president Ronald Reagan. While today we laugh at the idea of a movie star giving cigarettes as gifts, more subtle ads are still allowed in print.
Adversity Fosters Creativity
To not learn from the advertising practices of tobacco companies would be a huge mistake, of course. In the "golden age" of cigarette advertising from just after WWII through the Sixties, ad agencies worked not just to counter the increasingly negative information coming out about smoking, but to dramatically change the brand loyalty and smoking habits of tobacco consumers. While we can question the ethics of this work, there's no denying that it was well done.
In 1920, per capita consumption of cigarettes was 655. By 1940 that number had risen to 1,976, and a true national addiction was in place. But smoking was still primarily a man thing. It was also dominated by a few companies: Even up to 1950, three brands, Camel, Lucky Strike and Chesterfield, accounted for over 80 percent of all cigarettes sold in America. A major battle for nicotine-share was about to begin, thanks in part to television, which provided a perfect medium for the lifestyle advertising strategy needed to build new brands.
Everyone a smoker. In 1940 Emily Post published an article in Good Housekeeping on the etiquette of smoking. In it she said, "Those who smoke outnumber those who do not by a hundred to one... [so nonsmokers] ... must learn to adapt themselves to existing conditions... and when they come into contact with smokers, it is scarcely fair that the few should be allowed to prohibit the many from the pursuit of their comforts and their pleasures."
The biggest target for new smokers during the last century was always women. In the mid-1920s, American Tobacco launched one of the most successful ad campaigns to lure women smokers by contrasting ultra-thin smokers to fatter non-smokers under the slogan "Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet."
This early Chesterfield ad from 1926 [top] dared not show a woman actually smoking, but rather enjoying the pleasure of second-hand smoke. By the time the Lucky Strike ads on the bottom ran, however, women had gained full smoking rights, and every effort was made to picture smoking as a sexual attraction.
Women-specific brands were introduced, and thanks to psychological studies undertaken by cigarette companies, advertising focused on images of freedom, independence, and thinness.
Women were the biggest target of tobacco companies after World War II, and a number of special women-only brands were marketed, the most successful being Virginia Slims, the cigarette for the woman who had "come a long way baby."
No brand exhibited this more dramatically than Virginia Slims, which finally proved that women were finally equal enough to become addicted, too. And of course there was Eve, the woman's cigarette that was also a fashion accessory.
At several times attempts were made to make cigarettes more attractive. Vanity Fair inrtoduced pastel colors [left], and the brand Eve featured arty prints on the filters [right].
And though the tobacco companies have still not copped to it, targeting young smokers is a logical and reasonable (from an advertising standpoint) goal of any campaign. Cartoon characters, dancing cigarette packs, and talking animals have been used to promote cigarette brands, and at one point at the end of prime-time television shows like the Flintstones, you could see Fred, Wilma, Barney, and Betty all sitting around smoking the product of sponsor Winston cigarettes. Teenagrers longing for the perceived power and independence of adult life were susceptible to the less juvenile ad devices.
In 1969, Philip Morris President Joseph F. Cullman, III, wrote: "It is the intention of the cigarette manufacturers to continue to avoid advertising directed to young persons; to abstain from advertising in school and college publications; not to distribute sample cigarettes or engage in promotional efforts on school and college campuses; not to use testimonials from athletes or other celebrities who might have special appeal to young people; to avoid advertising which represents that cigarette smoking is essential to social prominence, success, or sexual attraction; and to refrain from depicting smokers
engaged in sports or other activities requiring stamina or conditioning beyond those required in normal recreation..."
We've Come a Long Way, Maybe
It's hard to believe sometimes that it took several centuries for us to collectively agree that inhaling smoke over and over again into your lungs is a bad thing. Cigarette smoking more than any other activity demonstrates the effectiveness of good advertising, and how creativity can be used to overcome even the most difficult adversities. At various times the tobacco industry did all the right things -- even when it meant admitting their product was harmful.
Apparently, the brains behind Old Gold's 1952 campaign decided to eschew lies about health benefits of smoking and appeal to the hedonists in the smoking population.
"Lifestyle" advertising is the last resort of a product that can no longer distinguish itself purely on features or merit. Cigarettes reached that point pretty early in their history, and we see some of the best examples of lifestyle advertising ever in this genre.
In the 1960s, smoking was linked with activities like deep-sea diving that required healthy lung activity. Many ads of the era pictures swimmers, divers, surfers and others enjoying a refreshing cigarette as part of their outdoor activities.
Not many tobacco companies distinguished themselves by humor, though Benson and Hedges, the longer cigarette, did so very successfully in the 1970s.
In some ways it's sad for me to see the diminished role of branding in smoking -- choice seems to have been reduced to only a few key brands and is made more on price these days than anything else. Even my 86-year-old mother, still pinching cigarettes as always with a pained look on her face, has been forced to switch to one of the generic low-price brands.
I don't feel sorry for tobacco companies, and I suppose if you work at an ad agency that has a cigarette account it may not be any worse than working on Cialis ads or those for a major oil company. The historical context of what we now know about the dangers of smoking casts a long shadow on the creative and innovative work done over the years on behalf of tobacco companies, but it doesn't minimize its effectiveness. In fact, it reinforces it.
In 1951, manly John Wayne was promoting the mild nature of Camel cigarettes. Before he eventually died of lung cancer, Wayne went back on the television airwaves on behalf of the American Cancer society to put in a good word for quitting.
I can't tell you if I got more candy the year I was a Tareyton smoker for Halloween. But I do know I got more comments on my costume than any other member of my posse, and there wasn't anyone who didn't recognize the reference. Fortunately, now as then, I still reach for a sweet instead of a cigarette every time.
Read more by Gene Gable.
Liked This? Read These!
One of my first jobs was working at a small local pharmacy. During the week after school I'd deliver prescriptions, and on Saturdays I'd man the front counter and wait on customers. And though it was... Read More
Once again, there is news of graphic design being the subject of a high court case. Read More
My dad smoked a pipe. I think everyone's dad smoked a pipe. But none of my contemporaries smoke a pipe -- at least not a tobacco pipe. Like all smoking, pipe smoking has taken a hit in... Read More
I feel fortunate to have grown up at the tail end of the black and white era -- a time that now seems less complicated and in the dewy mist of memory somehow more honest. When I rushed home from... Read More