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The Golden Era of Cigarette Ads

October 22, 2017

When Sir Walter Raleigh helped to popularize tobacco during the 16th century, he probably had no idea that he would be responsible for one of the largest and most profitable advertising campaigns in the history of Madison Avenue. Campaigns that would see a single product go from lifestyle enhancement to a pariah of the medical community within a matter of years.

Give Me Your Young at Heart

Before their negative association with health, cigarettes were marketed to successful young men and women as a way to relax and get more out of life.  Advertisements were filled with virile, athletic men and women prancing around tennis courts in snow-white shorts exclaiming,

“WHAT A DAY… what a game… what a cigarette! Why is Lucky so much a part of moments like this?”

Like any other product that clamored for the consumer’s attention, the multi-million dollar tobacco industry embarked on a constantly evolving campaign to come up with original reasons why smokers should buy their brand of cigarettes over the others:

“Only a perfect balance of sunshine and moisture produces vintage tobacco – with its qualities of gentleness and delicate flavor. These qualities tell why PHILIP MORRIS has made so many friends among younger smokers – with their fresher, unspoiled tastes.”

When their competitors quickly assimilated similar approaches, advertising executives responded by speaking to savvy, young men and women about exactly how cigarettes enhanced the good life:

“She swims… she rides… she’s typically modern in her zest for the active life. Typically modern, too, in wanting to know the scientific facts about the cigarette she smokes.”

Showbiz Gets Into the Act

Hollywood got into the action by glorifying the romance of cigarette smoking in films. A full-page advertisement in Life Magazine showed a voluptuous actress draped in front of a roaring fire in her “evening wear” purring, “As lovely Maureen O’Hara knows, it’s wise to choose a cigarette for the pleasure it gives.”  Even “The Duke” got into the game when promoting his 1952 film, “Big Jim McClain,”

“Mild and good tasting pack after pack. And I know. I’ve been smokin’ em for twenty years.”

About the same time, the burgeoning, young television industry found that the tobacco industry was only too happy to contribute millions of advertising dollars to an industry that hadn’t quite figured out how to pay for itself. One up and coming actor with political aspirations promised,

“Want to be the next President? Just do what Ronald Reagan does, smoke lots and LOTS of Pall Mall Brand cigarettes! The sooner you start, the faster you’ll rise to political success!”

The Public Becomes Concerned

By the late 1960s, the tobacco industry became concerned with the negative association between their consumers’ health and cigarette smoking. Advertisers countered the complaints of smokers with advertisements like,

“Should you CUT DOWN now? Why cut down on the relief and enjoyment of extra smoking now, when you feel you need it most? Even chain-smokers find that new Julep Cigarettes banish unpleasant over-smoking symptoms. Unlike ordinary cigarettes, Juleps sparkle up your mouth, refresh your throat and keep your breath clean and inviting.”

Everyone got on the bandwagon by promising that their products would minimize the unsavory side effects of inhaling hot, burning leaves:

  • “No ‘stale-tasting’ mouth: Even if you chain-smoke, your mouth feels clean and sparkling all day long.”
  • “No raw ‘burned-out’ throat: Miracle mint stays in the smoke of Juleps, refreshes the throat. No “dry-as-dust” rawness, even if you smoke 20-40-60 Juleps a day.”
  • “No heavy ‘tobacco-breath’: Unpleasant tobacco-breath is a common form of halitosis. But… the hint of mint in Juleps lingers, leaves your breath pleasant and inviting.”

As pressure continued to rise, advertisers mounted concentrated campaigns and even managed to draw the medical community into their web. Doctors (who smoked themselves) went before television cameras and claimed,

“More doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette!”

“After all, doctors are human too. Like you, they smoke for pleasure. Their taste, like yours, enjoys the pleasing flavor of costlier tobaccos. Their throats too appreciate a cool mildness.”

Who’s going to argue with a doctor??

Written for and excerpted from Armchair Reader The Gigantic Reader – West Side Publishing (September 7, 2009)

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