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Back When Smoking was Okay: Content Lessons from Old Cigarette Ads

Back When Smoking was Okay: Content Lessons from Old Cigarette Ads

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In the 1920s, the tobacco industry knew all about the persuasive arts, hired advertising psychologists, endorsed celebrities, played every feel-better trick, expanded constantly to new markets, new media. And their doings were for the most part not regulated. The advertising was about happiness, as Draper said. "It's about knowing that whatever you're doing is okay." (Mad Men) There is so much to learn from the (evil?) genius that aspired from this age of advertising, off the grid, and low on the radar.

Instead of a (fattening) sweet, reach for a…? A lucky! You knew that one.

Luckies, or Lucky Strike cigarettes, were once recommended by the tobacco industry, to keep a slender figure. The ad was targeted at women as potential smokers, in particular (and among the first to do so). But even George Gershwin claimed, for Luckies, that this is how he kept in physical trim.

I just smoke a Lucky whenever I crave over rich pastries that fatten. - George Gershwin

The recognizable "It's toasted" campaign from Luckies usually continued with:

Toasting frees Lucky Strike from impurities. 20,679 physicians recognize this when they say Luckies are less irritating than other cigarettes.

The industry also cared to underline everywhere the following tag lines:

No Throat Irritation, No Cough

Also, you could hook up every Saturday Night (between 1928 and the mid 1950s) to the Lucky Strike Dance Orchestra that repeated the messages over the radio. And if Luckies kept you slim, were the other cigarettes harmful? No, L&Ms kept you fresh, Chesterfields made you into a king, most doctors smoked Camels, your dentist would go for a Viceroy, York made people notice what you are smoking, and Kent satisfied best.

#1 Shock! Just What the Doctor Ordered!

"Do you inhale? A Frank discussion at last on a subject that has long been taboo", said Luckies ad from 1932. As health issues were brought up regarding the tobacco consuming, the cigarette industry wasn't afraid to break this taboo question in public. To answer that, yes, of course it's okay to smoke, what could be better? Cigarettes were presented as a cure-all product, fine for your throat, for asthma, for your nerves. This was not what everyone expected.

Lucky Strike has dared to raise this much avoided subject because certain impurities concealed in even the finest, mildest tobacco leaves are removed by Luckies' famous purifying process. Luckies created that process. Only Luckies have it! Do you inhale?

Only Luckies, and what about York? York had no filter, but according to its ads, it was longer than any other cigarette, actually of "imperial size", and it used this new length instead of a filter. "It travels the smoke further," they claimed. People will notice what you're smoking with York, while "rich tobacco flows through to you." It wasn't really that any tobacco factory was testing its purification processes against the others, but the public did, and the industries dared to - speak.

Image 1 - Lucky Strike: Do You Inhale? (All images source: Stanford School of Medicine)

#2 It's Okay - Don't Panic, Relax, Take a Break, Not a Cough in a Carload!

Are you feeling fatigued?

How are your Nerves? Does your job sometimes get you down? Do you feel tired? Irritable? Ready to "blow up" any minute. Because of raw nerves? Try to get enough sleep. Eat sensibly. And get a fresh slant on your smoking by turning to Camels.

You are not alone.

Smokers everywhere are turning to Camels for their energizing effect. You'll enjoy them, too! And remember, Camels never get on your nerves…never tire your taste.

And throat doctors, what do they say? Well, most of the throat doctors would go for the Old Gold cigarettes, because there is "not a cough in a carload." The others, and thus spoke the Old Gold, must be using feathers in a cigarette, that make your throat tickle. Or, if not feathers, maybe snow-fresh filters, like L&M;

America's most refreshing cigarette, as cool and as clean as a breath of fresh air.

The tobacco industry sellers weren't exactly in the cool spring water business, but they never refrained from choosing the most calming, reassuring keywords in their campaign. You were welcomed to the mild, feathery, snow, fresh, wonderful world of cigarettes. It was better than feeling tight, or fattening up, right? It is truer to say that advertisement is always about psychological exploits.

Image 2 - Camels: Wake Up Your Energy

#3 Approved by the Dentist. Plus, Wrapped by Santa!

Tobacco industries had doctors, dentists speaking for them. It didn't matter if they were real doctors, as long as it was a nicely combed man in a long white suit. Surely, their cure-all products had medical authority. What cigarette do you smoke, doctor? Camels probably, because

More Doctors Smoke Camels than any Other Cigarette.

And what about cigarette hangover, doctor (whatever that may be)? Doctors say:

No cigarette hangover when you smoke Philip Morris.

About the throat, you already know. "Throat doctors vote Old Gold best." If doctors are not enough, how can you distrust Santa who brings you Chesterfields, wrapped and ready to smoke. Marlboro even had a baby on the poster that said: "Gee, dad, you always get the best of everything."

Marlboro, approved by Babies

Fleetwood cigarettes used the kitten weakness, that is not only a trait of a cat meme generation. "Every puff of Fleetwood smoke cleans itself," said white kitty wearing a huge red ribbon. And Philip Morris addressed new mothers; "please, forgive us if we too feel something of the pride of a new parent. For new Philip Morris is delighting smokers everywhere." Again, they all knew, if you are selling a cure, you need to have it authorized. By whomever works best; doctor, Santa, baby, or a kitty. One of them will love it, and so will you.

Image 3 - As your dentist, I recommend Viceroys

#4 Create a Community - Bring Pop Icons, Singers, Judges, Flinstones, Bloggers?

Tobacco industries were endorsing a long list of actors, musicians, jazz singers, between 1920s and the 1950s. For a while, Luckies industries were linking smoking to sonorous voices, also known as "precious voice" from cigarettes. At that time, Fred Astaire was testing Camels for mildness, Al Jolson and George Gershwin were both being slim due to Luckies, Fred Flinstone was trashing Wilma with Barney, while puffing Winstons, and on TV. The pop culture was saturated with cigarette advertisement. Not only were the pop icons smoking cigarettes, they were explaining how and why it made their life simpler. In a same way you get to be described by bloggers. They can trash or glorify your product and work, offer a hat tip or not. They are the icons of the mobile desktop culture. Thus, creating a community is about keeping them satisfied (with, or without Chesterfields).

Image 4 - Camels with Fred Astaire

#5 Sex - Ivory Tips Protect the Lips!

Tobacco industry was one of the first to aim at women as potential smokers, but they were selling sex to both, well - sexes. A man smoking Marlboro was climbing hills, riding a horse, a mighty cowboy. Or he was a poker player, who would rather fight than switch from charcoal tip Tareyton cigarette to any other. But a woman smoking was a real lady, her face upwards, liberated, proud. Or else, dreaming of her man to come back, while keeping herself amused with ivory tips cigarettes. Was she just ogled by an 80-something man? She can brighten up, by lighting up a honey smooth Old Gold. Not to mention, it will make her slimmer. Always, all need to feel seducible, and a seducer. Just what the advertisement industry ordered. Stay pretty.

Image 5 - Marlboro, Ivory Tips protect the Lips

#6 Personalize Your Brand - Marlboro is Cowboys, Newports are Beach Buddies

And Camels are… ? Doctors (I can not seem to get bored by this one). The tobacco industries were basically all selling the same product, but chose to tell whatever they wanted about their own product. That made it special. Judges and politicians were mostly smoking Chesterfields, women were smoking Luckies, the elite was smoking Marlboro, African Americans were smoking Kent. It all related to a certain lifestyle. If you smoked Newport, you probably preferred playing ball at the beach to admiring hillsides, or a horse (in that case, you were Marlboro). Was it really a matter of a cigarette? No, it was about the story wrapped around it, a narrative. An additional rolling paper, seamless, the one which never slipped. It's the tale that gives you slender figure, snow fresh filter, and ivory tips for the lips. The tale becomes real with the cigarette, and who is there to tell, then, that it is not a cure-all product? Tell? Whoever comes up with a tale first.

Image 6 - Reach for Luckies, instead

#7 Know your ABC - Always Buy Chesterfield!

All ads included a call to action, an absolute must of every copy today. "Happy birthday, Dad, we know your ABC. Always milder, better tasting, cooler smoking. Always buy Chesterfield!" We told you the tale, we explained why it's special, we broke the taboos, the doctors approved it. Now, if you like our choice of icons and your lifestyle matches, please, always buy Chesterfield. If not, reach for a Lucky instead, right?

Image 7 - Know your ABC, Always Buy Chesterfield

And you will. The blogger, for example, smoked 40+ cigarettes while prepping up this piece.

1 Comment

  • Byron S.
    9 months ago
  • Too bad cigarettes today aren't as safe as they once were.

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