The Strange and Creepy World of 50s Cigarette Marketing

A few days ago I made some wiseacre observations about a 1950s-era Camel ad featuring Rock Hudson. It is a typical example of the era for cigarette hawking in that it combined both celebrity endorsement AND dubious scientific claims. It a formula we also see in this Phillip Morris ad:


Here Lucy and Ricky hold out the alluring promise of an end to the dreaded “cigarette hangover.” We’re also reminded that these cigarette’s are special because they are “made differently” than other brands.

Different how, you ask? After all, how many ways can there be to roll dried tobacco leaves into a paper cylinder, you wonder? “Shut up,” they explained. We apparently don’t need to know. All we need to know is that the making is “different” somehow. And that Lucy says it will help me avoid something that sounds bad.

In my recent exploration of the world of Happy Days cigarette advertising, one startling revelation was that before the Marlboro brand was marketed solely to men who wished they were craggy, weathered cowboys riding the fence line of a Montana ranch–Marlboro was marketed to women…specifically stressed out young mothers. Behold:


Yes, if Gerber-babies could talk, that’s what they’d say when Mommy fired up another one. Certainly not, “Gee Mommy, thanks for the life-shortening secondhand smoke.”

The subtle message for young moms here was this: “Anything that helps you be less stressed out, makes you a better parent. A happy mommy makes for happy babies. So light up all you want. It’s the parentally responsible thing to do.” Until you start feeling “over-smoked” anyway. I’m guessing it’s not good to feel over-smoked. Which probably leads to “cigarette hangover.”

Just how far was Marlboro willing to take this play-on-the-guilt-of-young-mothers thing to sell cigarettes? This far:


Oh, yes they did.

They armed nicotine addicted mommies with the rationalization that if they didn’t fill the house and car with choking, toxic fumes, they might turn into shrieking, psyche-scarring scold-harpies.

At the root of this campaign is something behind a lot of effective advertising for vices and luxuries. The key is to help someone feel good about the thing they feel bad about.

The fine print at the bottom of the ad tells us that Marlboro’s are available in “Your choice of Ivory Tips, Plain Ends, Beauty Tips (Red).” I’m guessing they dropped the “Beauty Tips” version once the Marlboro Man became the brand icon.