Selling Smoke: Tobacco Advertising and Anti-Smoking Campaigns

Selling a Lifestyle: Men, Women, and Gender in Cigarette Advertising

In this 1957 calendar, an attractive, young couple experiences a "Lucky" year with the help of Lucky cigarettes.

While it’s not true that “everyone smoked,” smoking was a part of daily life in the twentieth century, particularly from the 1920s to the 1960s. Successful cigarette advertising sold the smoker on a brand and identity. With so many brands and little variation in product, tobacco companies worked to convince smokers to stay loyal to their cigarette and lure other smokers away from competitors. Advertising focused on relationships and identity; the brand someone smoked represented the type of person he or she wanted to become. Many cigarette advertisements celebrated happy relationships and a fun, carefree life. Ashtrays, matches, lighters, and other products related to smoking were part of the lifestyle, a display of taste, sophistication, and other qualities.

When cigarettes were initially advertised for women in the first decades of the twentieth century, the advertisements related smoking to changes in social custom such as shorter and more revealing dresses, dancing, and dating.  By the mid-1920s, cigarette smoking among women had taken hold. Women in cigarette advertisements are always young and attractive.  Often they exude sexuality as well.  Even in advertisements for Virginia Slims, a brand created for women in 1968 that took advantage of the emerging women’s movement to promote its product, women remained feminine and fashionable and not a threat to gender roles.

Cigarette advertisements always featured attractive men, most often in suits, but from the 1960s on, advertisements also showed rugged men in outdoor settings.  They were strong, physically fit, independent, decisive, and not communicative.  The epitome of the manly man was the cowboy Marlboro Man of Marlboro Country who appealed to men working in offices or other ordinary jobs as an escapist fantasy.

Marlboro as a brand dated to the 1930s when it was marketed to women as a dainty cigarette with an “ivory tip.” (See above.) In 1954, Marlboro was given a complete makeover so that it would appeal to macho men.  The cigarette was given a new filter and new packaging in a cardboard flip-top box with a new red-and white chevron design.  At first various “outdoors” men with tattoos on their wrists appeared in the ads, but by 1962, the cowboy Marlboro Man prevailed.  The Marlboro Man of Marlboro Country, strong, rugged, and independent, was one of the most successful cigarette campaigns ever.