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Thursday, August 6, 2015

A Tobacco #TBT

I've never done a #TBT, aka Throwback Thursday. Gosh, I feel so old.

Tobacco has long been a fascination of mine. When I was growing up in the mid-70s, every magazine seemed to have a super cool cigarette ad with gorgeous, dynamic women and manly men. I learned that since the late 1700s, when the first tobacco advertisement appeared, tobacco manufacturers have been pioneers of advertising and marketing, revolutionizing the American way of doing business in the process.

It was hard to do any real research without the Internet and reference materials as a kid in the seventies, but I was obsessed to find out out the geniuses behind these campaigns. They were magic. Familiar. Aspiring. I mean, even Santa smoked for a while (and apparently they were easy on his throat). They gave me a taste of diversity and gender balance. They even introduced a certain sexiness usually reserved for the forbidden pages of Playboy.

I remember the buzz when President Nixon signed the measure banning cigarette advertising on radio and television around 1971 (yes, it was still buzzing a couple of years later, and yes, I am old...). My brothers in the broadcast industry lost $220 Million in ad revenue. The last commercial on US television was a Virginia Slims ad which aired January 1, 1971 at 11:59 PM on The Tonight Show. The ad featured model Veronica Hamel who was later seen on Hill St. Blues.

The Marlboro Man was in full glory by the middle of the decade and the magazine was the king of alcohol and tobacco ads. He was in every major magazine, in seemingly every Time, Newsweek, Sports Illustrated, along with dozens of other magazines.

Originally he was the Marlboro Cowboy who was created for Philip Morris by Chicago ad agency Leo Burnett. At the time, Marlboro held one quarter of 1% of the American market. Today, they own over 35% of the same market. I want to be that guy who develops genius like this. I guess there is still time.

Those guys turned out to be Philip Morris brand manager John Landry, along with Leo Burnett Creative Director Hal Weinstein and ad exec Don Tennant. Landry saw the brilliance of the Burnett team and wound up dominating Tobacco Mountain for decades. A New York Times article on Virginia Slim titled "WHY THEY STRETCHED THE SLIMS" is an amazing look inside the world of cigarette advertising.

Yet, I digress...

As I alluded above, the biggest-selling cigarettes of all time, Marlboros, were once were a minor brand, marketed toward women. Marlboro's motto actually was "Mild as May" and their filters were red, to not show lipstick stains. Camels were king. But changes were happening that would make America Marlboro Country.

In the early 1950s, when the first reports linking smoking to lung cancer came out, some smokers felt betrayed by the established brands. Unable to quit altogether, some retaliated by switching brands. The Philip Morris Co. saw an opportunity to improve Marlboro's pathetic market share. It didn't take Tennant long to figure out that Marlboro's previous ad campaigns ignored at least half the potential market. And what would make this woman's cigarette more manly? Well, in a word: men. And the rest is advertising history.

After the TV ban you would have thought that the smoking would have gone down. It was quite the opposite. Gideon Doron's 1979 article, How Smoking Increased When TV Advertising of Cigarettes
Was Banned, took us behind the curtain and showed us how such a thing could happen. Quite intriguing.

Regardless of how much the world has tried to stop the tobacco industry, they continue to thrive. So, without further ado, here's a #TBT with a gallery of ads from days past.