A Smoke A Day is What Docs Say

The artifact that I have chosen to review is the Lucky Strikes poster by The American Tobacco Company in 1929. The poster portrays a woman leaned over sensually so that just the top half of her torso and head are visible.  Both of her arms are crossed and her face is tilted upwards towards whomever is the viewer, lips pursed. The message is simple, “To keep a slender figure no one can deny… reach for a lucky instead of a sweet.” In smaller letters, “It’s Toasted!” across the bottom, as well as a promise that these cigarettes will not make you cough.  Through this image we get a pretty clear picture of what life was like in the late 1920’s, so long as we also take into consideration what isn’t in the poster.

The first thing we notice in this poster is the well-manicured woman.  Women in advertising was not a new concept, nor would it fade away in the coming years.  This repetitive use of a woman’s body or traits for a purpose is what makes it somewhat of a motif or symbol in advertising.  Chernus notes that when “images function as symbols they affect us both intellectually and emotionally, both consciously and unconsciously. They communicate several different, often divergent, sometimes even contradictory, meanings simultaneously.”  The purpose of this woman was to market to other women of her stature. We can assume, unconsciously, that this woman is fairly well off from the fact that A. she has the opportunity to reach for a sweet which implies a disposable income and B. her hair is in looser curls, rather than the tight flapper haircut.  This hairstyle, as noted in Smithsonian Mag, was less polished than the years previous, marking the start of the Great Depression well.  


The myth of the need for the weight of a woman to be slim for societal judgement is also not a new idea.  Chernus states again, “ Myths may generally have more fiction than fact, but sometimes the fact outweighs the fiction. “  The fiction here is that you need to smoke to be thin, or need to think about being thin more often than is realistic. The fact here is that oftentimes it is better to lay off the sweets and keep balanced.  The propagated fact of a woman’s “health” equalling her thinness has become in many ways a part of our civic ideologies. It is seen in the media nowadays and the amount of products marketed towards it have increased exponentially.

However, one of the most interesting myths that the American public was subject to was the idea that cigarettes were good for you.  Taking a wider lens on the poster, it is quite clear that it is insinuating that Lucky Strikes would keep you healthy. In fact, the campaign went further in the following year to come out and say that doctors themselves smoked.  The following poster was taken from a 1930’s Lucky Strikes campaign via the Stanford University Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising. http://tobacco.stanford.edu/tobacco_main/images.php?token2=fm_st002.php&token1=fm_img0101.php&theme_file=fm_mt001.php&theme_name=Doctors%20Smoking&subtheme_name=20,679%20Physicians

The doctor ( a man, so as to gain trust that he was a good doctor) is holding a large pack of cigarettes.  This number, 20,679, was proven later to be completely arbitrary and merely more believable “than a rounded number.” The Lucky Strikes campaign proved in a simple feat of advertising how easy it is to get the American Public to buy into whatever you want to sell them.  The initial breach of the topic of health into cigarette sales may have started with the female physique, but it was brought home with the doctors orders.

9 Comments on A Smoke A Day is What Docs Say

  1. Avatar
    March 28, 2020 at 7:40 pm

    I really liked the analysis of the smoking posters and attention to detail. Since I also looked at a smoking poster, I thought it was interesting to see techniques and the thinking behind other company’s advertisements. I especially thought that the point about the importance and different effects of the symbol of the woman’s body was well made. It is known that images are processed much faster than words in the human mind, so having a picture of something that symbolizes certain aspects of society can stir more feelings and actions than words. Therefore, companies had to make important decisions about who would be the face of their advertisements.

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    March 29, 2020 at 8:52 pm

    This was a very interesting read. It’s fascinating just how many aspects of these marketing tactics had such controversial connotations below their surface.

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    March 29, 2020 at 9:15 pm

    Anything about these old cigarette ads I find endlessly fascinating as smoking used to be quite American. In fact, smoking and cowboys (I mean, what’s more American than a cowboy) used to be associated, with Marlboro even having their spokesperson be a cowboy!

  4. Avatar
    March 29, 2020 at 9:23 pm

    Something else interesting to take into consideration is how smoking fits into the idea of being American. Smoking is often associated with cowboys because of the infamous Marlboro man, and tied to two together. I mean, come on, you can’t get more American than a cowboy and a cigarette!
    *Note* : Might’ve posted two comments on this, my first one isn’t displaying and trying to play it safe.

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    March 30, 2020 at 6:14 am

    Very interesting piece! Your application of Chernus’s ideas is spot on; I like how you defined the “fact” and “fiction” clearly with regard to your artifact. I also wrote about the cigarette advertisements, and I enjoyed your exploration of how depicting a woman’s physique played a role in marketing. ( I also love the creative, goofy title)

  6. Avatar
    March 30, 2020 at 2:14 pm

    Maria Sarantis

    I thought your blog post highlighted some very interesting aspects of the marketing industry, specifically when it comes to the marketing of cigarettes in the 1920’s. I also thought it was really interesting how you called the thought of cigarettes being good for you as a myth itself. Overall, I thought your blog post was super interesting and really highlights how far we have come as a society regarding marketing and health.

  7. Avatar
    March 31, 2020 at 12:00 am

    I enjoyed your title, it did well to draw me in as an avid reader of this blog. Your evidence and support was also very good!

  8. Avatar
    March 31, 2020 at 1:51 am

    You did an excellent job of showing how media can affect the opinion of the populace. What I mean by this is that by the cigarette company saying they are healthy they made the general populace believe that their cigarettes were healthy and even that they were approved by doctors. It is a scary thought that advertisement can make us form a biased opinion that is based on our trust in a business.

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    Andrew Scharnweber
    April 9, 2020 at 8:32 am

    I was very interested by how you highlighted the progression of the marketing styles as well as the traits depicted in individual for either approach. First the appeal to vanity with the well groomed affluent woman championing cigarettes for an ideal figure brought home by the appeal to reason with the smiling doctor recommending them for health. It appears to me that marketing strategy have evolved little over the years as both ploys see frequent use today with modern products.


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