(or at least a good, suggestive ad campaign)
I spent some time this morning with a client whose next big presentation includes a couple of PowerPoint slides meant to show, in an an almost subliminal visual shorthand, the effects that good marketing can wreak on health and self-image. One of his slides, featuring a vintage Kool cigarette ad from the 1980s, got me to thinking about another lovely little relic of the American marketing machine at work: a seminal blow and blast from the past, sent my way by the PG’s great Dennis Roddy, in which Chesterfield suits and flacks helped birth the idea that a woman who smoked was not only socially acceptable but economically imperative. As long as she was sexually suggestive.
The advertisement, published in 1926, seems to me most remarkable for the way that it, behind the barest veneers of restraint and sophistication, so clearly prefigures a twenty-first century advertising-industrial complex that fuels itself almost exclusively on sex. What is now naked aggression in both image and text was then just subtle suggestion, but the implication was still clear: the cigarettes and the smoke, thanks to the sharing and the blowing, were all about copulation.
The full moon, the lupine cloud formation, the oncoming, undulating white caps. The firm, hard rocks. The bent knees and exposed calves, the outline of the thighs and the warm, white light shining through the dress. The cocked head and mouth.The cupped hands. The glowing faces and the pulsating trail of smoke. The cigarettes reaching and straining to burst from the pack. And of course that slogan, atop it all with four words that may as well come with their own [throaty, breathless] stage direction. By the time you've finished reading the ad, you practically need a cigarette.
Eighty-three years and ten million lung cancer deaths later, the ad — as vintage as it is timeless, as inspired as it insidious — seems both testament and testimony to the near-perfect union of an industry that sells us an old product we never really wanted, and another that tells us new products are all we really need.
Even if they could kill us. And especially if they can get us some action.