10 years ago this week, we were the first country in the world to impose an outright ban on smoking in the workplace. It’s been so successful that these days, most people wouldn’t dream of lighting up inside – even in their own homes.
We rolled the clock back a few decades, to a time when cigarettes were being endorsed by athletes and doctors, as part of a campaign which featured what is perhaps one of the world's first publicity stunts. So outrageous were the campaign's claims at the time, they could actually be considered quite comic now – as Louise Denvir reported.
Smoking & the development of modern marketing
by Paul Anderson
The employment of females on the farmyards and factory floors of America during WW1 served as a huge boost to the women's equality movement in the US. By the mid-1920s they had won the right to vote; they were succeeding their husbands as State governors (Texas and Wyoming); and more were at college and in the workforce.
But while women gained greater economic freedom, socially, progress was less advanced. Women were still second-class citizens expected to conform to male-conceived constructs of femininity.
One of the discriminations they faced was restrictions on smoking in public (in 1908 a woman was arrested for lighting a cigarette on a New York street). There was also a general public perception that cigarettes were for men only and the only 'disreputable' women smoked.
But as the US consumer economy began to boom in the 1920s George Washington Hill, president of American Tobacco Company, maker of Lucky Strikes, recognised females were a market not being properly tapped. He believed cigarette sales would soar if women were allowed smoke in public and in 1928 hired one of America’s first PR men, Edward Bernays, to help.
Background to Edward Bernays
The War Effort
Edward Bernays had established his reputation working for the Creel Committee on Public Information, which was formed by President Woodrow Wilson to encourage a sceptical public to support US involvement in WW1. Led by ex-journalist George Creel, it became one of the first examples of the modern communications office generating positive news stories about US war activities through earned and paid-for media. While its output was supposed to be more subtle than conventional propaganda, it very quickly started having to field media queries about bad news stories and soon found itself resorting to “spin” to fulfil its mission.
The Committee was an early adopter of the theory that the public’s full attention span was four minutes. The Committee sent out 75,000 people know as four-minute men who would address pretty much any gathering they could find (workplaces, town halls, social clubs) about the war effort. This was also an early example of the technique of public conditioning that is used in so regularly PR and marketing.
The public mind
Bernays was not considered the first PR practitioner. That honour is more commonly accorded Ivy Lee, inventor of the press release. Lee was a consultant to corporate America who advocated a more proactive – though despite his claim to the contrary, not always spin-free – approach to public communication. He and Bernays were competitors and were generally quick to adopt any innovation developed by the other. Bernays, however, was initially ahead of the curve on marketing – and was therefore more focused on the public mind.
Bernays was also influenced by political advisor and journalist, Walter Lippmann, who had by the mid-20s established himself as the guru of public opinion. He identified that the media use generalisations and stereotypes because they resonate with a wider audience. "The mass of the reading public is not interested in learning and assimilating the results of accurate investigation,” he wrote. The masses generate "pictures in their heads"; reading the world around them through symbols. In the main, they only pay attention to public policy issues if they pertain to pressing local issues or their personal interests.
Austrian-born Bernays, was nephew of Sigmund Freud and an advocate of psychoanalysis. He had written two landmark texts on mass behaviour, Crystallizing Public Opinion (1923) and Propaganda (1928). He argued in Propaganda, that manipulation of public opinion was necessary to maintain social cohesion. It was for “our own good and the only way that democracy can work efficiently,” he wrote. He also described PR as “an invisible government which is the true ruling power in our country”.
In 1929, Bernays set about an integrated marketing campaign for Lucky Strikes. By this stage market research – the first example of which was a newspaper opinion poll in 1824 – was an established practice in the advertising industry.
But Bernays saw how it could be adapted. Up ‘til then, research was largely about public reaction to campaigns rather than products. And Bernays had made his name predicting reaction rather than measuring it after the fact, so he contracted psychoanalyst Dr AA Brill, to find the psychological basis for women’s smoking. Dr Brill opined that women felt empowered by cigarettes. Smoking established behavioural equality with men and as a phallic symbol it gave them, subconsciously, the same thing as men.
Brill said: “The emancipation of women has suppressed many of their feminine desires. More women now do the same work as men do. Many women bear no children; those who do bear have fewer children. Feminine traits are masked. Cigarettes, which are equated with men, become ’Torches of Freedom’.” 
Torches of Freedom
So Bernays determined that if women equated equality with cigarettes they would smoke a lot more. But he needed a subtle strategy so leveraged the public smoking ban.
He planted pretty debutantes in New York’s Easter parade down Fifth Avenue. He also planted members of the media at 34th St (Empire State building) and 57th (upmarket shops and art galleries etc.,). He then asked his debutantes to light up as they approached these intersections. He made them walk back and forward along the route to ensure the media saw them and could capture them on camera and report it in the newspapers and on the newsreels.
The stunt got widespread coverage and within three days, women smoked in public in other major US cities; within 6 weeks the League of Theaters allowed women smoke in their establishments. Bernays had made women's smoking socially acceptable.
Bernays supported the stunt with the “Torches of Freedom” advertising campaign using female celebrities such as Amelia Earhart often explicit referring to torches of freedom or the connection between liberation and smoking.
Green is the new black
While the torches campaign worked well Luckies’ chairman George Hill wanted higher dales. Bernays carried out research which showed women didn’t like the colour of the packets which they found clashed with the fashionable colours of the day. But Hill said changing the packaging would be too expensive and ordered Bernays to change the fashion instead.
So when he surveyed his target market, females, he found they didn’t much like Lucky Strikes’ green packaging because the dark shade was unfashionable.
So Bernays aped the world premier fashion show at the time, the Paris Bal de L’Opera where the latest couture were launched. He offered the President of Women’s Infirmary in New York a $25,000 budget to host a fundraiser called the Green Ball.
Notices were placed in the city’s society columns advertising the event; and Parisian couturiers were arranged to provide green gowns for the event. He also organised an exhibition for fashion editors in which an art historian and psychologist to explain the significance of green.
He met with clothing manufacturers shortly afterwards to promote the ball and said they already knew green was going to be the premier colour of the season and were already making the green stockings, gloves and shoes that after the fashion of the day would be needed. Within weeks fashion magazines were depicting models wearing dark green.
So when the green couture dresses were worn by the select group of New York socialites who were invited to the ball at the Waldorf Astoria, which was bedecked in green décor – even the food was green – naturally, the media were also invited. And so the “Green Ball” got extensive coverage for the forest green shade on Lucky Strikes packs. (The form eventually abandoned the colour during the WWII because a great deal of the green dye it used came from Germany.
As an aside, another PR technique was used by Philip Morris, makers of Marlboro, in response to social commentary suggesting that the many women's execution of the performance of smoking was gauche. So the company hosted public information evenings on how to smoke while avoiding the etiquette pitfalls which so annoyed men such as lipstick on the filter looking too affected/posed while smoking.
Ask the expert
In his book, Propaganda, Bernays expressed concern that public sentiment was having too much influence on the behaviour of politicians who were, he felt, afraid to make progressive policy decisions, ie legislate for corporate interests. Similar to Lippman, he believed the public did not make up its own mind but instead people allied themselves to the opinions of favoured thought leaders such as journalists, politicians, the military or experts such as doctors and scientists.
He felt politicians and businesses could be bolder if they used better powers of persuasion. He said the techniques of manipulating public opinion included pandering to prejudices; and providing cliches or verbal formulas which would frame the public’s view on an issue.
He used the technique of expert endorsement to create another of his most famous campaigns. He was by Beech-nut bacon to promote their product. So he conducted a survey of physicians and reported their recommendation that people should eat "heavy breakfasts" to other doctors.
This was also a form of Word-of-Mouth (WoM) advertising because these doctors would then recommend bacon and eggs to their patients. As usual, Bernays supported this work by an advertising campaign referencing physicians promoting bacon and eggs as a healthier breakfast than regular coffee and toast. Bacon was not a common breakfast food at the time so Beech-Nut saw their sales soar.
So much like the red-suited Santa Clause being a creation of Coca-Cola, so Beech-nut manufactured a tradition.
The technique of expert endorsement was also deployed for cigarettes as a means of combating claims, which until the 60s we rot underpinned by scientific proof, that cigarettes were harmful.
Magazines, billboards TV and cinema advertising were awash in the 40s and 50s with claims that cigarettes were good for clearing up ailments such as chesty coughs. And doctors were used to endorse particular brands. Camel, one of the more disingenuous operators who also used a cartoon character to target young people, were particularly fond of using doctors to endorse their product.
So stepping back to 1930s, by the time the campaign for Lucky Strikes was in full flow, Bernays was combining lobbying, market research, expert endorsement, advertising, direct mail and PR – what we now call integrated marketing. Overall, the chief characteristic of his work was that he pioneered the principle of making a product – or message – attractive to the public by focusing less attention on the product’s characteristics and putting greater focus on its associative benefits which were rooted in the satisfaction of latent human desires (Freud’s influence again). This is the principle we now recognise as branding.
Within six years of Bernays being contracted by American Tobacco, the number of women smoking had gone up 50%.
Other techniques used by cigarette makers included the development of collectibles cards, firstly using the latest lithographic printing techniques to make attractive looking images on the card used as a protection on the soft packaging of early tobacco products. At a later stage, these cards became coupons for use in getting products from catalogues created by the tobacco firms (loyalty marketing) or collectible sports star cards.
The first real innovators in tobacco advertising was a firm called Blackwell & Co makers of Bull Durham rolling tobacco. They drove a boom in Durham, North Carolina by cornering the market in tobacco products through production automation and an early example of branding, in which their trademarked bull featured prominently in billboard and magazine advertising. Their product was popular among baseball players so the company also bought sponsored fencing at baseball grounds which is the presumed reason the term bullpen for the pitcher’s warm-up area emerged.
Today the new frontier in the West is lobbying were companies spend millions trying to assure governments they are against encouraging smoking (particularly among young people). They are developing new products and supporting anti-smoking lobbies but at the same time are aggressively pursuing new markets in the developing world and trying to circumvent advertising codes everywhere.
For instance in Malaysia, the display of cigarette packets in advertisements has been banned since 1995. However, tobacco firms have continued to advertise on TV and elsewhere by using brand names on other products and advertising them instead. Want to go on holiday? Try the Mild Seven Seafarers Club, or Peter Stuyvesant Travel, Kent Holidays or Salem Holidays. These brands also sponsor entertainment events. You could alternatively staycation eating out at Benson & Hedges Bistro and use the money you saved on new clothes from the likes of Dunhill, Marlboro Classics, Pall Mall, Winfield and Winston.
One of the main weapons lobbyists in Ireland are using in Ireland – and elsewhere – at the moment, is that efforts to discourage smoking through high prices, curbing availability and introducing plain packaging, will lead to more illicit cigarettes which are often more dangerous being consumed. They also warn that if all avenues of promotion are cut off they will be forced into a price war which will increase consumption. One argument that did not go so well at a recent Oireachtas Committee hearing was advanced by the Law Society who was concerned about plain packaging infringing on copyright entitlements. They also reckoned that detecting the increase in cigarette smuggling they arises from greater tobacco control will cost money and resources for gardai and customs officers. Unfortunately, they appear not have noticed that representatives of both had already been before the committee where they dismissed the suggestion.
Short summary of Bernays by the Discovery Channel:
Tobacco.org timeline: http://archive.tobacco.org/resources/history/tobacco_history20-2.html
24 March 2014 at the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland
6 Kildare St.
ASH Ireland, the Royal College of Physicians of Ireland and TobaccoFree Research Institute are marking the 10th anniversary of the smoking ban with a breakfast of invited guests that will be addressed by the Minister for health followed by a seminar with looking at how Ireland has benefitted as a society from the ban. Public welcome.
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