Lucky Strike

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A Branding & Advertising Evolution: 1 in a Series of Musings Sparked by “The 100 Greatest Advertisements,” Julian Lewis Watkins, Dover Books, 1959

I’ve written about tobacco industry and government overreach before (here, here, here, and here). My feeling is that as long as tobacco is a legal product, and the government chooses to collect ever higher taxes from smokers, and as long as there are age restrictions and programs in place to educate young people, then there should be a balance. However, with the cost of employee health care guaranteed to keep rising, there will be ever-increasing pressure on people not to smoke, not to over eat, not to eat unhealthy foods, not to drink sugary drinks or those with artificial sweeteners, not to drive except to work, school, or essential errands, not to step off curbs. . .well, where does it end or does it ever end? The other day, I heard that some state is thinking of introducing legislation to prevent the public smoking of electronic cigarettes, the ones that produce no harmful byproducts or second-hand smoke, only steam. So, now it is the sight of someone deriving pleasure from an electronic device that simulates the smoking of a tobacco cigarette that is enough to cause psychic harm to bystanders? We have really lost our way.

When Ted Regan loaned me his copy of “The 100 Greatest Advertisements,” and began sharing Ayer stories, he didn’t know he was going to re-ignite the great tobacco/smokers’ rights debate again. This is rich territory that MadMen has visited in various episodes and might again this coming spring.

N.W. Ayer's introductory campaign to launch the then-new Camels brand.

N.W. Ayer's introductory campaign to launch the then-new Camels brand.

It shouldn’t surprise anyone that one of the most iconic of cigarette brands began life as an N.W. Ayer account. When R. J. Reynolds blended a new cigarette that they wanted to roll out as a national brand, they acquired the Camel name from a small independent company in Philadelphia for $2,500. They then budgeted 10 times that amount, so Ayer could introduce it. First, there was testing to ensure the public liked the new cigarettes — many cartons were distributed and sold through the best retail stores in Cleveland, prominently placed on top of counters. Secondarily, it was moved to parts of stores where it competed for sales with regional brands. It did well in both areas of these stores. Ayer then developed a newspaper teaser ad campaign, coordinated with the implementation of new distribution, to create interest in demand for Camels (“Tomorrow There Will Be More Camels in This Town Than in Asia and Africa Combined”). The rest is brand history. Later on, a billboard painter was quoted as saying “I’d Walk A Mile For A Camel.” That was the genesis of one of the most famous slogans in advertising history.

This Lucky Strike campaign was aimed squarely at women and against candy.

This Lucky Strike campaign was aimed squarely at women and against candy.

Long before there were Virginia Slims, developed specifically to market as a women’s cigarette brand, the American Tobacco Company decided that Lucky Strikes could be effectively marketed (against the protests of the confectionary industry) as “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet.” Motion picture starlets were hired as spokespersons to pitch the dietary cravings advantage of cigarettes over candy to women. It was a huge success, and many believe that the campaign may have been the single greatest effort leading to creating women smokers.

Hedy Lamar continued the Lucky Strike trend of movie star brand spokespersons.

Hedy Lamar continued the Lucky Strike trend of movie star brand spokespersons.

Conversely, the tobacco brand forever most associated with men is Marlboro, thanks to the efforts of Leo Burnett, where the marketing effort began. Ironically, Marlboro already existed as a high-priced exclusive cigarette sold to sophisticates and women at hotels, cigar stores, and nightclubs. Philip Morris wanted to take the brand for a new entry into the popular-priced filter field. They wanted to appeal broadly to men, and secondarily to women.

Long before the "most interesting man in the world" there was the Marlboro Man.

Long before the "most interesting man in the world" there was the Marlboro Man.

The filtered segment began in response to health concerns (more on that in a minute), but flavor was still critical in brand decision-making. Burnett realized that image was critical. And so, the Marlboro Man was born — the cowboy who bought a new brand of filtered cigarettes because he liked the taste and they came in a distinctive crush-proof box.

The Emperor of All Maladies, A Biography of Cancer, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee

The Emperor of All Maladies, A Biography of Cancer, is the Pulitzer Prize-winning book by Siddhartha Mukherjee

Ironically, the other book I’ve been reading concurrently with Ted Regan’s loaned Ayer and advertising volumes is the exceptional, Pulitzer Prize-winning,“The Emperor of All Maladies” by Siddhartha Mukherjee, subtitled “A Biography of Cancer.”  Two later chapters touch on the battle to beat lung cancer, and the subsequent start of the government’s own battle with the tobacco industry. At that time, the tobacco industry was far more dominant than they are today. When Richard Doll and Bradford Hill published a ground-breaking study on lung cancer in 1956, the adult American population had reached a peak of 45 percent who smoked. On average, Americans smoked 11 cigarettes per day. Hard to imagine those numbers today.

"A Frank Statement," American tobacco's first salvo against medical studies linking smoking and cancer.

"A Frank Statement," American tobacco's first salvo against medical studies linking smoking and cancer.

The study’s results for the first time strongly linked smoking, tar, and tobacco with lung cancer deaths, especially when contrasted against non-smokers. With bad publicity spreading, the heads of U.S. tobacco companies decided they could not sit back and ignore what would be increasingly damaging reports. The result was a counterattack that began with a full page ad in 400 major newspapers entitled “A Frank Statement.” The text cast doubt on the quality of the science (experiments on mice vs. humans, which actually was not the case in the Doll/Hill study) and disagreements in the medical community. The topping was the announcement that the industry would be conducting its own research by the Tobacco Industry Research Committee (no conflict of interest here). A recent trip to a Baltimore antique store hammered home to me that Big Tobacco’s efforts to assure the public of the safety of cigarettes didn’t end with “A Frank Statement.” Although it never evolved into a lasting brand, Country Doctor pipe tobacco may have been the ultimate attempt to mislead the public that cancer risks from smoking were minimal to the point that the medical profession had their own preferred pack.

Country Doctor brand cigarettes. To your health!

Country Doctor brand pipe tobacco. To your health!

     Any trip to Wawa will tell you by the number of tobacco products behind the counter that Americans are still smoking, chewing, pinching, and spitting. But you’ve come a long way, baby, from a market share of half the adult population. Smoking is still a pleasurable, stress-relieving activity for a lot of people, but those who partake do so with the knowledge that they may face a bevy of health risks or early death down the road. If ever there was a product that the phrase caveat emptor was invented for, it’s cigarettes.

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Ad great Albert Lasker, The Man Who Sold America

Ad great Albert Lasker, The Man Who Sold America

Ever hear of Albert Lasker? Me neither and I’ve been in this profession longer than I care to admit. After reading a book review for “The Man Who Sold America” in Friday’s print Wall Street Journal, and a book excerpt from WSJ.com, I am embarrassed by my ignorance but excited to have a new addition for my summer reading list. I also think there is good reason for Lasker’s low profile (more on that in a minute).
First, Lasker and his incredible resume.
• In 1898, joined the Lord & Thomas advertising agency as a teenager, winning many new clients, and becoming a part owner by the age of 24.
• Helped transform the agency business from media space brokerage to creative “reason why” advertising development.
• Built brand concepts that would last into modern times: Quaker Oats Puffed Rice and Puffed Wheat (“foods shot from guns”); Palmolive soap’s beauty appeal; the “Sun” brands of fresh foods, Sun-Maid California raisins and Sun-Kist California oranges; the transformation of Kleenex tissues from cosmetics removers to disposable handkerchiefs; and Goodyear all-weather tires.
• Helped make Pepsodent toothpaste a household name, and in the process, the sponsored radio show’s host, Bob Hope.
• Convinced a certain chewing gum magnate and personal friend to change the name of Cubs Park to Wrigley Field. Later, when the Black Sox scandal erupted, it was Lasker’s plan that was adopted for restructuring major league baseball and appointing Judge Kenesaw Mountain Landis as its czar.
• Managed the 1920 campaign that put Warren Harding in the White House, considered a landmark in political advertising.
• Served under Harding as chairman of the Shipping Board.
• Reshaped philanthropy, using radio to reach more people and influence how America though about cancer and other diseases.
• Suggested the Birth Control Institute change its name to Planned Parenthood.
Looking back, some of Lasker’s work, like MadMen’s snapshot of the sixties, is interesting for its depiction of his time. His agency got Kotex to put its tampons in plain-wrapped packages on store counters, so as not to embarrass the ladies who asked for and purchased them. His “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet” campaign turned a lot of women into smokers, specifically Lucky Strike smokers, and ticked off the candy industry (and maybe Bill Wrigley?).
So why isn’t Albert Lasker better known? Advertising, like pop culture, is pretty much “of the moment.” The MadMen period brought more recent fame to many well-deserving creatives from David Ogilvy, to Geoge Lois, to Bill Bernbach, to Jerry DellaFamina. Today, beyond Wieden and Kennedy and Crispin Bogusky Porter (now sans Alex Bogusky), the absence of memorable shingles sadly reflects the commoditization of this business.
Advertising has always been about individuality and ideas and enthusiastic creative selling. In Lasker’s case, he built his agency Lord & Thomas into a powerhouse of his time, but by 1942, he kept that name and sold its assets for a small amount to Emerson Foote, Fairfax Cone, and Don Belding. Now, we’re getting somewhere. For my entire career, Foote Cone and Belding was an agency of national and eventually international stature. In the 90s, they acquired Philadelphia’s largest agency, Lewis Gilman & Kynett (and the granter of my own first ad job interview), and went through several additional transactions and name changes (some helping Brian Tierney make a name for himself). Nationally, Foote Cone Belding became True North Communications for awhile. Today, as units of Interpublic, the reminders of the Foote Cone Belding brand and the 20th century advertising juggernaut that Albert Lasker helped build have been reduced to acronym-based entities: Draftfcb and Draftfcb Healthcare. Go to Interpublic’s pulldown “Choose a company” menu and be disheartened about the obscurity of this legacy. Or be awed by the size of the global modern enterprise that Lasker’s insightful, ground-breaking creativity helped build.

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