Cigarette advertising has had many changes from 1960 to 2000 but one constant theme was promoting the sale of cigarettes no matter how harmful they were. Also, these advertisements often shaped our culture in many subtle ways over time, riding the waves of social change to promote sales. However, in the past decade many non-profit groups have stepped up inform the public and change the cultural idea that smoking is cool.


1963 Pall Mall ad. Wikipedia.

The 1960’s were a rough time for cigarette companies because the Surgeon General declared a causative link between smoking and lung cancer in 1964. The situation was exacerbated the next year when these warnings went on the packages. To combat the growing public health concern, many companies started advertising natural ingredients. In this advertisement, fresh fruits and plants are depicted behind the pack and the word natural is underlined and centered in the page to emphasize the safety of Pall Mall’s cigarettes because natural ingredients couldn’t be harmful. Another important tactic was to remind smokers why they smoke: taste. It’s not about being healthy because all that is inconsequential to the enjoyment and pleasure of smoking. It plays on the appetite of the reader by using words like satisfying and smooth and it “smokeable.” It also targets nonsmokers to try because it tastes so good and if they do not do it they are missing out.


1971 Marlboro Ad. Wikipedia.

The next obstacle to the cigarette companies came in 1970 when broadcast advertisements were banned; as a result, print ads became more common. This 1971 advertisement is part of the most recognizable ad campaign in advertising history: The Marlboro man. The campaign targeted men and idealized the strong, virile alpha male. The explicit claim here is that Marlboro has the best flavor while the implicit claim is far more powerful. It says to men that smoking Marlboro will make them independent and free from authority. Marlboro was creating an image for itself that all men can relate to: the desire to be a strong leader who makes his own rules. This may have something to do with the concurrent wave of feminism sweeping the nation. The campaign found a lot of success because men were happy to have something that was purely masculine while women could enjoy their feminism.


1989 Virginia Slims ad. Wikipedia.
1989 Virginia Slims ad. Wikipedia.

In the 1980’s feminism was in full swing and the cigarette companies were capitalizing on that as well. Virginia Slims was heavily marketed to women and had the catchy phrase “You’ve Come a Long Way, Baby.” This appealed to the cultural movement of the day and women liked these advertisements that helped them feel liberated. This 1989 advertisement does that by making fun of the antiquated roles of women, depicted in the two black and white pictures in the background. The modern-day woman featured in the center serves to illustrate exactly how far women have come, with the trendy clothing and popular hairstyle and most importantly, there is no man behind her telling her what to do. The main focus of the advertisement is of course to sell cigarettes but it also is trying to influence culture by selling their idea of what the modern woman should be: confident, outgoing, fashionable. This plays on most women’s insecurities about themselves and makes them believe that somehow if they smoke Virginia Slims they will become a self-assured and desirable woman. By this time, it was well accepted in the medical community that cigarettes are linked to lung cancer and just a year before the Surgeon General declared nicotine an addictive drug. This leveled out the cigarette advertising industry because it did away with claims of ‘low tar’ and ‘safe, natural ingredients.’ All cigarettes were virtually the same product so the companies that did the best had a strong cultural following tied to their popular image, like Virginia Slims which is still around today.


1996 Basic Ad. Wikipedia.

The 1990’s had a signature style and lifestyle and Basic was one of the first to recognize and use this style to market to teens. The ‘grunge’ theme of the early nineties was very popular among teens and pre-teens; and is characterized by sloppy attire and flannel shirts. The campaign idealized the norm instead of the unobtainable perfect looks and personality and was widely popular among teens and sadly even those under the age of eighteen. Another important theme was that of value: “It tastes good and costs less.” This was important in Basic’s popularity because with cigarette prices on the rise middle to low income people wanted a cigarette that wouldn’t break the bank. The themes of style and value come together with the 3-piece suit tagline because it illustrates that even if you don’t want to spend a lot of money you can still be fashionable and have great cigarettes.


2005 Anti-Smoking ad. Wikipedia.

In 2003 New York issued arguably the most severe blow to tobacco companies when it banned smoking in all public places. This was done on a wave of outrage over the devastating effects of cigarette use and their ad campaigns targeting children. This did not stop Camel though as they launched their very provocative retro themed “Pleasure to Burn” campaign. The above advertisement though is one of many aimed in the opposite direction. Where tobacco companies have tried to cover up and play off insecurities, these new anti-smoking ads are designed to reveal the deceit of these companies and inform the general public about how bad smoking really is for you. These ads are so powerful because after years of conditioning at first glance they seem like normal smoking ads. On second look however, you might see a number of how many people died from smoking last year or the burnt and tarred lungs pictured above. This makes people stop and think about how such an addictive harmful substance could be so mainstream for almost a hundred years. Of the entire history of cigarette advertising, these are the most potent because after years of being told one thing, people listen when health organizations are telling them another, with no money to gain.