Perpetual Struggle: Why Cigarette Ads Have Been Evolving

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At first sight, it seems that advertising is a mutually advantageous activity, where both sides benefit: a producer promotes his product, and a consumer receives useful information. However, looking at advertising history in detail brings an idea, that advertising is more similar to a struggle than to simple communication. This research is aimed at analyzing the interaction between tendencies in society and those in the advertising industry, from the 30s to nowadays, and the causes of cigarette ads’ evolution.

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The period of the 1930s has become a certain border in the history of advertising. This was a period when the advertising think tank realized the importance of building the product’s brand. Since that time, instead of separate attempts to form the product’s image, this process became deliberate and attracted the designers’ great effort. The key factor of the advertising evolution during the period of the 30s was the Great Depression and its consequences.

Advertising has always reacted to social tendencies: after the misery of the Depression, it addressed positive emotions and people’s thirst for well-being and prosperity. At the same time, cigarette producers had to increase their sales rather quickly, that is why they focused on extending the target audience: the new segments became women and those who care about their health. The cigarette brands’ slogans sounded like “So mild! You can smoke all you want”, or “They don’t get your wind” (Camel Cigarettes.1930s).

Considering the list of the needs provided by Fowles (412), in the 1930s, ads yet tended to apply to rather simple needs, such as the need for guidance, feeling safe, and physiological needs: to sum up, the cigarettes of the 30s are fresh, not harmful for health, bringing energy, smoked even by women and sportsmen.

The key event of the 1940s was World War II. This was a period of separation for many people, and the advertising reacted by a strong appeal to the need for affiliation (Fowles 414). When people missed the members of their families and felt alone in the aggressive and unstable world, cigarette ads performed the images showing unity. Cigarettes were promoted as an inalienable part of people’s lives, not “betrayed” even during the War.

One of the most famous cigarette ads of the 40s is that showing a young woman, sitting in her room close to her son and carrying a Camel cigarette: she is writing a letter to her husband and tries to draw a smoke of his favorite cigarettes (Camel Cigarettes.1940s).

Thus, advertising tended to fill the emptiness in people’s souls and address their sacred emotions. Applying to the need for affiliation is a more advanced device than those used in the 30s, as it implies more complicated psychological communication. It began to be used both explicitly, like in the case with the soldiers, and implicitly: Chesterfield started its ad with “Like millions who have read it, Chesterfield believes…” (Cigarette Advertising). Cigarette ads also started applying to satisfying curiosity: such slogans as “28% less nicotine” appear on them (Camel Cigarettes.1940s).

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In the 1960s, social issues were again addressed by advertising designers. Vietnam War, the Cuban Missile Crisis, and the Cold War were the most important events for the society in the USA and throughout the World. This made the matters of power, strength and dominance prevail in culture and aesthetics. The mass culture was saturated with strong, masculine human images: soldiers, builders et al. Marlboro introduced the well-known image of a cowboy (Fowles 407); Camel produced ads with a dam worker, a balloonist, and a captain. These advertising trends were applying to the needs to achieve and dominate: cigarettes help to build a strong and powerful nation, able to resist and to win.

Between the 60s and nowadays, advertising has evolved incredibly, which has been caused by the evolution in all fields of life, first of all, that of technology, mass media, and the Internet. Television, radio and the Web provide opportunities for boundless translation of information. At the same time, these growing information flows have loosened the viewers’ attention. The speed of social life has increased, people have no time to analyze the long and complicated messages, as well as to focus on the inexpressive and mediocre ads.

The aim of the modern ad is to catch the attention and to start acting on the level of subconsciousness before a viewer responds to the message deliberately. That is why the colors used in ads are bright and eye-catching, the long slogans and stories are substituted with short messages. For example, the pink color of the Camel No 9 pack has become a perfect sign for both adult women and even teenage girls (Gordon).

Moreover, cigarette ads have extended their place to appear: they are often placed outside and interact with the exterior (Tobacco Advertising Gallery). Considering the speed of modern life, these messages are more effective than the page-long articles in the magazines, which were prevailing in the past (A Portfolio of Advertisements 440-441). Cigarette companies become sponsors of significant events, gaining additional points to their image.

Another tendency is the high rate of appealing to the need for sex. This trend is quite consonant to that in mass media, music, cinema and art. The human eye has got used to seeing seminude attractive bodies, and the modest images are incapable to address a viewer effectively. Modern cigarette ads often consist of a portrait of a beautiful woman with her perfect make-up, a cigarette and a brand’s logo with a short slogan.

To impress, to make a viewer feel the atmosphere is more important nowadays than to provide some definite information. Besides the appeal to the need for sex, cigarette ads apply strongly to the need for prominence and autonomy: cigarettes complete one’s image and make one special. Cigarettes have become an important and eloquent sign of one’s status and mode of life. At the same time, sometimes cigarettes “propose” to leave the fuss of the modern dynamic world and to escape (Salem), which is classified as an appeal to the need to escape (Fowles 421).

As a whole, cigarette producers pay much attention to advertising, trying to build strong and recognizable brands; they often use devices of nostalgia and maintain certain elements of their image through decades: Marlboro continues using the image of the cowboy; Camel refers to the past decades, using female images of the 50s-60s (Tobacco Advertising Gallery). This device is aimed at highlighting that cigarettes have been an important part of people’s lives and have kept this role nowadays; at the same time, nostalgia applies to the viewers at the level of subconsciousness. Despite using several appeals of the modern cigarette ads, brand managers often make them appear apart, not being fused: this is, however, a common tendency in advertising, which makes the perception faster and more convenient (Fowles 424).

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There is one more aspect of changes in society: strengthening of the consumers’ rights protection and advertising regulation. Nowadays we can hardly expect to see an advertisement showing a woman with a cigarette sitting close to her son, like that of the 40s, mentioned above. The legislation provides a range of restrictions in terms of the products’ quality, production standards, and advertising, which means that the struggle becomes tighter.

It is rather interesting to analyze the development of the cigarette ads in terms of warning messages: together with the images and slogans, it can also serve as an eloquent illustration of marketing struggle. Looking at the cigarette ads’ retrospective review provided in (A Portfolio of Advertisements), we see that the warning messages had rather small places and were not catchy, even in the 2000s. Nowadays, designers also do their best to diminish the effect of the warning messages: first of all, it depends on legislation, and if a designer finds a “hole” in the law, he uses it immediately.

It is sufficient to compare the “Gitanes” cigarette pack in Germany (Gitanes Germany), where the inscription is clear and contrast, and that in the UAE (Gitanes UAE), where the golden words are printed on the silver background or Marlboro USA with its silver inscription on the white font (Marlboro USA). Sometimes the words are printed rather tightly, which does not focus a reader’s attention on the content (Marlboro Russia).

However, the designers have already overgrown such simple tricks, having started to use more complicated techniques: the famous Don Miguel, which “decorates” the cigarette packs in Chili, is positioned as a smoker with a 20-year “experience”; his portrait with a hole in his throat is considered to fill a viewer with fear and disgust (Lucky Strike Chili). Therefore, designers applied special devices, such as showing a standard face and making the photo look like a picture from a magazine. Thus, instead of making the photo authentic and eloquent, they have shown Don Miguel as a mature respectable actor.


It is possible to sum up, how and why cigarette ads have been evolving. They tended to reflect the most important social trends and to apply to people’s strongest needs and emotions. The cigarette ads apply to both deliberate and intuitive levels of perception, making a consumer both know and feel the brand. The devices used in ads have been evolving from more explicit and primitive in the 1930s to more complicated nowadays. As for the human images used in the cigarette ads, they have been reflecting the fashion tendencies with incredible precision: we can see the girls looking like Marlene Dietrich (A Portfolio of Advertisements 440), Audrey Hepburn (441), or a modern supermodel (Camel Exotic Blends).

Cigarette advertising has learned how to overcome the obstacles of legislation and how to use the advanced technologies of the mass media. Thus, the question about the reason for advertising changes has the evident answer: cigarette advertising participates in the struggle with three contenders (consumer, government, competitors) simultaneously, and when struggling, one has to adapt his weapon in order to succeed at the battlefield.


A Portfolio of Advertisements. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. Ed. Behrence, Laurence, and Leonard J. Rosen. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2006. Print.

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Camel Cigarettes. 1930s. IndyMotorSpeedWay. Web.

Camel Cigarettes. 1940s. IndyMotorSpeedWay. Web.

Camel Cigarettes. 1960s. IndyMotorSpeedWay. Web.

Camel Exotic Blends. PubMedCentral. Web.

Cigarette Advertising: 1930s, 1940s, 1950s. Media Awareness. Web.

Fowles, Jib. “Advertising’s Fifteen Basic Appeals”. Writing and Reading Across the Curriculum. Ed. Behrence, Laurence, and Leonard J. Rosen. 2nd ed. New York: Pearson/Longman, 2006. Print.

Gitanes Germany. ArtLebedev. Web.

Gitanes UAE. ArtLebedev. Web.

Gordon, Serena. Teen Girls Say Pink Camel in Cigarette Ads Caught Their Eye. BusinessWeek. Web.

Lucky Strike Chili. ArtLebedev. Web.

Marlboro USA. MarlboroCigarettesBlog. Web. .

Salem. VintageAndStuff. Web.

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"Perpetual Struggle: Why Cigarette Ads Have Been Evolving." BusinessEssay, 7 Dec. 2021,


BusinessEssay. (2021) 'Perpetual Struggle: Why Cigarette Ads Have Been Evolving'. 7 December.


BusinessEssay. 2021. "Perpetual Struggle: Why Cigarette Ads Have Been Evolving." December 7, 2021.

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BusinessEssay. "Perpetual Struggle: Why Cigarette Ads Have Been Evolving." December 7, 2021.