13 Vintage Commercials That Made Smoking Seem Irresistible
It’s been four decades since President Nixon signed the bill that banned cigarette commercials from U.S. airwaves, but millions of Baby Boomers can still hum the “Winston tastes good” jingle. Tobacco companies paid big bucks to hire the best creative minds to make their ads memorable, as these vintage ads show. Why can’t the USDA make broccoli look this appealing?
Anyone who watched TV in the late 1960s can probably still sing the Salem jingle: “You can take Salem out of the country but/you can’t take the country out of Salem.” The tune was so catchy that later commercials ended the song after the but, leaving the listener hanging; it was sort of like playing “Shave and a Haircut” without the “two bits” ending.
Today, “I’d walk a mile for a camel” sounds like the wistful lament of a Bedouin who’s been alone in the desert too long. But just a few decades ago, even non-smokers knew that the Camel in question was a cigarette. Print ads during that campaign usually featured the smoker’s feet propped up while he enjoyed his Turkish tobacco, a visible hole worn clean through the sole as a result of all that walking.
3. Virginia Slims
When females started speaking up about little things like equal pay for equal work in the 1970s, their male counterparts disparagingly referred to them as “women’s libbers” in the same tone of voice they’d used to describe a Communist or a puppy killer. Virginia Slims capitalized on the Women’s Liberation movement with their “You’ve come a long way, baby” campaign, although they had the concept a bit skewed—women are equal to men, but they need special slender cigarettes to fit between their dainty fingers.
Kool also tried to appeal to the ladies in the early 1970s with their “Lady be Kool” campaign. The series of ads promoting their new 100 millimeter smoke featured elegant Earth-mother types, with long hair cascading past the shoulders of their ankle-length flowing dresses.
Tareyton’s flavor was somehow so much better than other cigarettes (must’ve been that fancy two-tone filter) that loyal smokers would rather fight than switch to an inferior brand. This ad campaign was so ubiquitous during the 1960s that every child sporting a black eye from a playground accident could be assured that at least one person would jokingly inquire if someone had tried to take away his Tareytons.
6. Benson & Hedges
Benson & Hedges was a British brand that was virtually unknown in the U.S.—until they introduced a 100 millimeter variety in 1967 and accompanied it with a Clio Award-winning campaign that highlighted the “disadvantages” of a longer-than-King-size cigarette. The background sound was catchy enough to be released as a single by the Brass Ring, which cracked the Top 40. (Look carefully—that’s a pre-M*A*S*H McLean Stevenson working on the outboard motor.)
Another impossibly catchy jingle was Winston’s “tastes good like a cigarette should.” Eventually the Grammar Police noticed that the slogan should properly state “Winston tastes good as a cigarette should.” The song was revamped and extended to ask the musical question “What do you want—good grammar or good taste?”
The rugged images of cowboys herding horses to the tune of “The Magnificent Seven Theme” made the Marlboro Man one of the most powerful brand images of the 20th century. When the last hostages of TWA Flight 847 were released after two weeks of captivity in Beirut in 1985, they reported that despite their captors’ intense hatred for America, they did express a desire to visit the U.S. so they could meet J.R. Ewing and the Marlboro Man.
“Do you save the coupons?” was the question on the lips of every Raleigh smoker back in the day. Raleigh’s catalog of valuable merchandise was more impressive than the Sears Wish Book. Smokers who lived long enough to collect a couple hundred coupons could choose from everything from patio furniture to baby strollers to circular saws.
“Show us your Lark!” Certainly the ad execs who coined this slogan knew that it would eventually become the punchline for a variety of dirty jokes, but as they say on Madison Avenue, who cares? As long as they remember the product name, there’s no such thing as bad publicity.
A dancing cigarette pack with a sweet, delicate female voice coquettishly inviting a couple of burly men to “Taste me, taste me”? You don’t need Sigmund Freud to interpret the subliminal message here.
11. Silva Thins
Stylishly slim, packaged in brushed silver foil and promoted by a series of James Bond-type men in wraparound sunglasses getting ambushed by a femme fatale, Silva Thins seemed to have all the elements in place to become the Marlboro of “sexy” smokes. But the brand prompted boycotts by the National Organization for Women when they added the tag line “Cigarettes are like women—the best ones are thin and rich,” and sales slumped.
Newport’s gimmick for a while was a catchy (and repetitive) jingle about tasting “smoother than any other menthol cigarette,” sung by an attractive, beckoning couple on a beach. The couple popped up on billboards and TV sets and broke the fourth wall by interacting with some poor schlub who welcomed an escape from his daily grind.
L&M set the stage for that Taster’s Choice couple with a series of commercials featuring a sophisticated couple engaging in some cryptic, suggestive banter while puffing away on their L&Ms.
BONUS: Lucky Strike
Even though it’s a print ad and not a commercial, this 1930s-era pitch for Lucky Strike deserves to be included in our list. From the scantily-clad beauty lounging languidly, face pointing directly toward the pants region of the gentleman, to the sly questioning headline, the Luckies “Do you inhale?” campaign oozed innuendo and was surprisingly risqué for that time. Of course, would we expect anything less from a brand whose slogan was “So round, so firm, so fully packed”?