From Then to Now

To understand what has led us to the current advertising methods of the tobacco industry it’s important look back at the history of the industries advertisements.  Health concerns have been a standing issue with cigarettes before the data was firmly gathered to establish a legal precedent to limit advertising. The advertisers weren’t afraid to address the issue head on, and as a result we got ads directly appealing to doctors’ authority on the matter as in this 1949 commercial:

It depicts a fairly young attractive doctor working at his desk and taking a moment to smoke a Camel cigarette while the narrator explains the cigarettes popularity with doctors and makes sure to get these simple advertising phrases into the audience’s head. Toward the end they take a second to simply depict an attractive woman dressed up simply smoking in front of the camera to the finale of the commercial’s narration. It’s important to know that “More Doctors Smoke Camels Than Any Other Cigarette,” and they make that point clear, but they would be fools to completely abandon the sex appeal angle. So there it is staring us blatantly in the face.

From this advertisement during the same period we see another example in this line of advertising. The advertisement contains a lot of text, especially by modern standards, but the top half is still dedicated to the doctor’s image. The text largely goes over the same material which the narrator covers during the commercial involving studies finding more doctors smoke Camel cigarettes. And once again they still manage to slip in an attractive woman in the corner of the advertisement just in case. During this time period there were a lot of cigarette companies competing against one another attempting to get any edge they could over the competition. The general appeal to doctors is still around in other advertising today (can you name the number one brand of toothpaste recommended by dentists?) but most doctors would not want to be seen recommending cigarettes.

Notably today Camel cigarette packaging itself hasn’t changed terribly much. They manage to have maintained the warm golden brown colors, and on the package the words haven’t changed. They maintain the image of an exotic product with the reference to the Turkish origins of some of the tobacco itself, as well as the classic now image of the camel itself in the desert. The Ottoman Empire only became the Republic of Turkey in 1923, but they’re still calling upon that imagery of a mysterious, foreign and rich history. Though if you can explain the connection between the pyramid and Turkey I’d be intrigued, for now let’s just chalk it up to the standard American’s inability to differentiate between countries in the area. And before we move on from this advertisement it’s worth mentioning the “T-zone” is also where smokers are likely to find squamous cell head and neck cancer.

In 1964 the U.S. Surgeon General released a report that led “led a surge in restrictive legislation, including mandatory warning labels on packages and a ban on advertising on radio or television” (Olstad). Where before cigarettes were sponsoring television shows like the Flinstones, they had quickly been limited to primarily print advertisements. Joe Camel appeared in 1987, and after plenty of controversy over what was considered subversive advertising to children the mascot was done away with after a decade. Now women are viewed as the primary target of tobacco companies for advertising, and the modern advertisements for the Camel No. 9 cigarettes appear in the magazines Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and Glamour (Szabo).

This first piece mainly focuses on fashion, but sports the black and pink color scheme associated with the brand. It disguises itself almost as a normal page of a magazine, and the mention of the cigarettes themselves are extremely limited: a simple URL. But the brand is now in the mind of the readers and they’re curious as to what they’re even being advertised. The callback to these vintage styles of fashion is subtle, but what else was popular during the time periods being referenced? Smoking. After World War II many soldiers returned now addicted to nicotine which had kindly been donated by the cigarette companies. “For tobacco companies, it was the Golden Age: cigarette ads featured endorsements from dentists, doctors, babies and even Yankees slugger Mickey Mantle” (Olstad). There is a clear aesthetic appeal in these ads, and the advertisement encourages the idea of returning to a “classier” time when a woman would dress up, go out, have fun, and smoke a Camel. The cigarettes aren’t mentioned explicitly, and interestingly it’s missing the standard Surgeon General’s warning perhaps as a result.

On this page of advertisement we see the color scheme repeated. Hot pink takes over the page and the goal of these advertisements to appeal to a female audience is obvious. “Light and luscious” has an appealing alliterative sound, but also seems to reference older “vintage” styles of advertising while maintaining modern minimalist sensibilities. The flowers are drawn to appeal to that same old-timey “vintage” look, and the packaging itself is notably sleek, albeit missing the Surgeon General’s Warning that impairs the visual appeal of the real packaging. Instead we get a very clean black package highlighted by a hot pink camel that really stands out in contrast. The colors have stepped away from the normal warm colors seen in standard Camel packaging, and instead it’s about the cool teal and pink hues. Text is kept to a minimum, and instead the visual impact of the packaging which they know has a certain appeal is put front and center, surrounded by decoration. Everything simply frames the cigarette boxes, and the containers themselves frame the brilliant pink image of the iconic camel itself.

Studies have shown this advertising has really been noticed by younger girls, “a hit with girls ages 12 to 16, says a study of 1,036 adolescents published online Monday in Pediatrics” (Szabo), and it’s hard to deny the striking visual impact the advertisement makes. Women have been a target market for some time ever since “campaigns emphasized that “Luckies” would help consumers—especially women, their new market—to stay slim” (Gardner). In these advertisements Camel makes sure the brand and product name is well known for better or worse. The words “light” and “luscious” were not randomly chosen out of a box; for that matter they don’t even sound like words that would normally be used to advertise cigarettes. David Ahrens though explains the choice of words.

“Why ‘light?’ Because girls fear being overweight and want to be thin. Packaged in a sleek fuchsia or black package outlined with a thin red line, the product is designed to appeal to girls who view smoking as a sign of maturity.

Why ‘luscious?’ To have the smoker believe that the cigarette will, as in the dictionary definition of the word, ‘arouse sexual desire’ (Ahrens).”

Sex appeal is still important, no matter who you’re advertising to. It’s all about looking good, and the Camel No. 9 ads really do a surprisingly subtle but elegant job of handling it. Yet with even limited critical examination the blatancy of it is hard to miss, these advertisements are crafted very precisely with a clear intent.


Ahrens, David. “Tobacco Company Targets Girls.” The Smoke Free Milwaukee Project. Smoke Free Milwaukee Project, 29 Mar 2007. Web. 26 Oct 2010. <;.

Gardner, Martha, and Allan Brandt. “”The Doctors’ Choice Is America’s Choice”: The Physician in US Cigarette Advertisements, 1930–1953.” American Journal of Public Health 96.2 (2006): 222-32. Web. 26 Oct 2010. <;.

Olstad, Scott. ” A Brief History Of Cigarette Advertising.” Time 14 Jun. 2009: n. pag. Web. 26 Oct 2010. <,8599,1904624,00.html&gt;.

Szabo, Liz. “Study: Camel No. 9 cigarette ads appeal to teen girls.” USA Today 15 Mar. 2010: n. pag. Web. 26 Oct 2010. <;.

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