When television was in its infancy, it may well have foundered if not for the influx of advertising dollars from tobacco companies. Thus, many early shows featured cigarette brands as part of their names.
As television got bigger and bigger, the concept of a single sponsor for shows waned. This didn’t bother tobacco companies in the least. They simply swamped the airwaves with commercials.
Thus, we Boomer kids grew up with a steady diet of catchy ads designed to put into our minds the desire to someday smoke cigarettes, just like the grownups.
The ads were quite insidious. I remember the whistled “I’d walk a mile for a Camel”, Lark’s charcoal filter, The Marlboro song (which I later learned was actually the theme from The Magnificent Seven), the fact that you can take Salem out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of Salem, and many, many more.
During the early 90’s, there was a firestorm of controversy over the Joe Camel figure encouraging kids to smoke. Cigarette ads aired during the 50’s and 60’s weren’t really aimed at us, as I recall, but they were incredibly effective nonetheless. Why? Because smoking was absolutely, positively COOL. It was something that adults did, and what kid didn’t want to be a grown-up?
During the 60’s, ads were broadcast that WERE aimed at kids, showing the bad side of smoking. One that was repeated for years was this one, known as the “like father, like son” ad. This one, as well as many more anti-smoking spots, did serve as a discouragement to me, so that by the time I made it to high school, I viewed the gang who smoked out behind the shop as decidedly UNcool.
The generation of Boomer kids who grew up in the 50’s weren’t so fortunate. What they saw were irresistible ads that made no mention of any disadvantages of having a cigarette blasting smoke into the deepest recesses of one’s lungs. Thus, many, many of those old enough to be concerned with the draft were hooked.
Of course, it wasn’t just television. Radio ads extolled the benefits of one brand over another, and big, colorful magazines of the 60’s were loaded with full-page ads.
Thus, talk among kids of the neighborhood gang was of smoking, and how we could actually score a pack for ourselves.
I display the Benson and Hedges ad because one day a bunch of us decided to give smoking a try, and the extra-long cigarettes seemed like the best bang for the buck. It felt extremely cool, to be sure, but when the pack was gone, I don’t recall any of us tempted to try it again.
The last cigarette ads aired on TV and radio on January 1, 1971. As I recall, practically EVERY ad was for cigarettes that day. Thus, my own children weren’t exposed to grammatically-challenged spots like “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should” or “Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch.” Indeed, even magazine advertising has been severely clipped since then, and long-standing traditions like NASCAR’s Winston Cup have been forced to choose another sponsor.
Ads for cigarettes are rare nowadays. And even though I thoroughly despise the concept of political correctness, I have no regrets that this particular Boomer memory is now considered heinous by the Well-Informed.
I had enough headaches raising my kids without the idiot box convincing them that smoking was cool.
For lots more info on old cigarette ads on TV, check out http://www.tvparty.com/vaultcomcig.html