What can Modern Digital Marketers Learn From Cigarette Adverts (of the 50’s, 60’s and 70’s)?

by Josh Barney

Before we get to the juice of this article, I want everyone to know…

…I don’t encourage smoking (don’t do it kids!). This article has been created for educational purposes only!

That’s the housekeeping out of the way.

The advertisement of cigarettes was banned from both TV and Radio in 1965 (in the U.K) and 1971 (in the U.S), but during the 50’s and 60’s tobacco was the most competitive industry to advertise in.

It’s thought that almost 50% of the American population smoked during the 1960’s, making it a huge industry. And when an industry is that popular, a huge amount of money is freed up for marketing.

The combination of a surge in media owners (TV and radio), mass popularity and enormous marketing budgets made cigarette advertising a cut-throat place to be, contributing to a growth in advertising agencies worldwide.

Although this scenario isn’t entirely the same as today, with the increase in digital competition growing by the day and the constant battle for online attention, a lot of parallels can be drawn.

In this article we’re going to step back in time and see what we can learn from this era of intense advertising competition. I’ve handpicked some of the most successful (and controversial) adverts in both print and video for analysis.

Let’s tilt our trilby’s, dust off our old sack suits and iron out our poodle skirts.

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A Tribal Feel 

Despite the enormous number of smokers and the large budgets available to them, advertising firms taking on tobacco company clients were faced with one very big problem…

…cigarette smokers don’t tend to change brand.

The brand they choose often stays with them for years, if not forever.

This level of brand loyalty and the incredible level of competition from rival advertising agencies, forced marketers to raise their game, think outside the box and do near enough anything to separate themselves.

Whilst many of the cigarette brands were scrambling for USP’s and separation, one brand launched one of the most successful advertising campaigns of the era…

…up until this point, Tareytons had always used their ‘activated charcoal filter’ as their key advertising feature. But, with competition rising, they changed tack, choosing instead to create a tribal mentality within their loyal customers.

This led to a slogan that would stick with them for years, ‘Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch!’


Soon after this Camel followed suit, creating a series of adverts based around their customers claiming that they’d ‘walk a mile for a Camel’.


As a modern marketer, it’s crucial to understand the importance of brand loyalty. If you’re able to deliver this tribal feeling via advertising, you’ll increase customer value and long-term growth.

Think of brands like Harley-Davidson, Apple and IKEA. They all have incredibly high brand loyalty, created by products and marketing strategies primed to define their customers by their purchase decisions (e.g. imagine a typical Harley-Davidson owner, do you think you’d ever catch them on a Kawasaki motorbike?)

Find out more about creating intense brand loyalty in our article, How to Create a Cult Following (Around Your Brand).

Pain Points

Before we dive into this sub-section, I need to make another disclaimer:

Making false claims in your advertising is wrong, misleading and will land you in some serious trouble. Don’t do it!

For the purposes of this article about advertising, pain points are a highly relevant (but in this case not commendable) feature used by many of the most prominent tobacco brands of the age.

Imagine (for a second) that you’re a smoker in the 50’s and 60’s. Smoking has never been seen as a health issue, but more and more scientific studies are revealing that it is in fact very bad for your health. Do you think this would be a big pain point?

The advertisers of the age did and they responded. Prepare yourself for some shocking claims…

This Camel cigarettes advert claimed that ‘More Doctors smoke Camels than any other cigarette’.


Viceroy claimed that their cigarettes were recommended by dentists:

what can advertisers learn viceroy cigarette advert

And Lucky Strike ran with 20,679 (notice the very high, specific number) physicians say “Luckies are less irritating”:

what can advertisers learn lucky strike advert

And finally, L&M claimed (alongside a celebrity endorsement) that their cigarettes ‘are just what the doctor ordered’:

what can advertisers learn l&m advert

Again, I’d like to make it clear that I do not agree with false claims in advertising, but taping into the pain points of your target audience is something that you should all take into consideration when producing your next marketing campaign.

Do as the advertisers of the age did and put yourself in your customers shoes. Consider the wider issues in their life and how it relates to your offering. If you can tie their pain to your product’s solution, your advertising campaigns will do infinitely better. Use a customer avatar to get inside your target market’s head!



Adverts that live long in the memory create tons of invaluable benefits.

There are a number of ways of doing this, but you’re most likely to remember an advert that has one of the following features:

  1. Comedy
  2. Shock/controversy
  3. An annoyingly catchy song
  4. A continuous theme (storytelling through separate ads)

Tobacco advertisers were more than adept at all of these tactics, but the feature that caught my eye most when trawling through 100’s of adverts, was the annoyingly catchy song.

Before we dive into the examples, are there any adverts you can remember that have a memorable tune? How did it affect your brand recollection?

I don’t want to brainwash you into singing cigarette songs (like I have been all day), so we’ll only use two examples for this section.

The first, produced by Pall Mall and their singing quartet, is sung by a group of sportsman in a changing room. The tune is infectiously memorable and was used across a variety of different adverts (to great affect).

What do you think of the Pall Mall tune? Watch it to the end for both parts!


Our second example comes from Winston cigarettes. This company actually had The Flintstones smoking in one of their adverts! But for the purpose of memorability and annoying songs, check out this song (that I still have stuck in my head):

A memorable tune can create immediate brand recognition and an increase in spur of the moment buying decisions. What can you do to make your adverts more memorable? Use one of the 4 features mentioned at the start of this sub-section!



When a product is successfully aligned with wealth, fame or beauty, sales immediately pick-up. And when an entire industry is able to press these links by using attractive and successful people in their advertisements, it creates a psychological link between the product and success.

Aspiration is a strategy that has been adopted throughout the history of advertising. Think about it, if you thought a product would make you more beautiful, wealthy or better respected, would you buy it?

Whilst this isn’t entirely unique to the cigarette advertising industry, it was certainly implemented heavily during this era, so let’s take a better look at it, starting with a former US president

Before coming into office, Ronald Reagan was a famous Hollywood actor and had plenty of opportunities to act as a representative for brands. Of all his adverts, perhaps his most controversial was for Chesterfield cigarettes.

In this advert, the (then future) president proclaimed that he’d be “…sending Chesterfields to all my friends. That’s the merriest Christmas any smoker can have…”

what can advertisers learn ronald reagen chersterfiled advert

Marlboro are another brand who have regularly used aspirational advertising. In this case, I’d like to draw your attention to two stages in their advertising history.

Starting with the earliest, Marlboro created several print ads featuring a baby who was proud to declare that his Dad always gets “the best of everything…”

Whilst this might seem shocking to a 21st century audience, it was deemed perfectly acceptable at the time and had powerful eye-catching and aspirational qualities.

Later on, Marlboro created the Marlboro man (who some of you might remember). This rugged cowboy was created at a time when ‘filtered’ cigarettes were seen as feminine, conjuring a masculine aspirational feel around this adventurous and fearless character


Aspirational advertising is a powerful tool that can have incredible effects on any marketing campaign. If you are able to create a psychological link between your brand and success, you’ll see an increase in demand and be able to raise your prices (because price sensitivity goes out the window for aspirational brands).



All cigarettes are pretty much the same, right?

Apparently not, and the advertisers of their era wanted everybody to know it.

Differentiation is a crucial tactic for brands fighting in crowded industries (I’m sure many modern digital marketers would agree!). The most effective way of doing this is to highlight a particular product feature (that nobody else is promoting) and centre campaigns around it.

One brand who did this to stunning effect was Lucky Strike (if you’ve ever watched Mad Men, you’ll know what’s coming). Despite every tobacco company of the age using similar manufacture techniques, Lucky Strike decided to highlight a particular process in theirs.

“It’s toasted” might sound like a USP, but it was a process performed by all tobacco manufacturers. Lucky Strike ran with this slogan in nearly all their adverts, creating a differentiating feature that made them stand out from the crowd.

This advert combines a pain point (weight loss- “Reach for a Lucky – instead of a sweet”) and the repeated “It’s toasted” differentiating slogan.

what can advertisers learn lucky strike it's toasted

One of the most popular Menthol cigarette brands of the day was Newport. They used the minty taste of their menthol cigarettes to create a slogan aimed at differentiating themselves from the competition.

Their adverts featured the slogan ‘Newport tastes fresher!’. This incredibly simple three-word statement, tied in with characters (nearly always) in or around water, gave them an advertising edge over the other menthol brands of the day (even though, I’m sure none of them actually tasted ‘fresh’).

what can advertisers learn newport tastes fresher


Modern marketers can learn a lot from what many consider to be the golden age of advertising.

This era saw an unprecedented step-up in competition, technical improvement and out-of-the-box thinking, teaching modern marketers techniques that many take for granted.

Whilst cigarette advertising is frowned upon (and deservedly so) there is a hell of a lot that can be learnt from this cut-throat age.

The 5 strategies highlighted in this article can have immeasurable effects when applied to modern advertising, especially when they are focussed on individually. Those advertisers who stick with a pure idea, are usually those who succeed.

Have you used any of these advertising strategies in your campaigns? What are your opinions about the examples in this article? Let us know!

If you’d like to learn more about digital advertising, check out our Ultimate Guide to Facebook Ad Campaign Objectives 2019 and our Psychology of Colour article.

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Josh is the Founder of We Imagine Media, an award-winning content marketer, best selling author and creator of the www.joshbarney.blog. He creates and strategises content, sharing the most successful tactics with his lovely audience. He hates writing in the third person, follow him on the social links so he can get back to writing as himself.

One Response

  1. Really interesting. I loved the Mad Men series and a lot of this reminds me of that. Some very valuable marketing points, for sure.

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