Up in Smoke

In the 20th century, marketing was seen simply as a means of communicating the tangible, real benefits of a product in the simplest and most concise form possible. It was believed that people needed a factual rational to make a purchasing decision for themselves. But this train of thought has become increasingly unconventional and complex. People now craft advertising and marketing based on an emotional and unconscious level, engrained so deeply in our daily lives that we don’t even realize we are being sold something.

We all now the classic example of how advertising has posed problems within the tobacco industry. As more and more people began to smoke cigarettes, tobacco advertising companies continued to fashion cigarettes as fashionable and trendy. Smoking rates have been consistently falling in the last quarter-century, but over the past couple years the decline has levelled off. Approximately 22 percent of the adult population continue to smoke regardless of the plethora of information and education surrounding the health risks of smoking. The industry itself seems to have targeted young women in particular as a marketing ploy to tap into an untouched segment of the population. In this way, smoking had to become something that was a symbol for freedom and independence. Women were working hard to assert their newly found independence since the women’s liberation movement and this idea appealed to a large group in many ways, making it a very successful marketing strategy.

This form of marketing is not foreign to what we know today and played a huge part in shaping the future of advertising. Many outdated gender-divides exist in marketing today and rely heavily on one-dimensional insights like demographics to inform positioning. People buy into it, and why wouldn’t we? Magazines are packed with images of images that raise the bar on the standards of beauty we are to live up to. Marketers are constantly conflating the constructs of sex, gender, and sexuality, making assumptions about feminine, masculine, heterosexual, and homosexual meanings.

The ad in the image above shows how the tobacco industry exploited women’s interests in smoking through the media and propaganda. Ads like this one remind us that often times advertisers attempt to feed into our insecurities and play into sexist and gender-based stereotypes. It becomes profitable to play into our insecurities and remind us of the unrealistic standards of beautify and inferiority we must live up to. For example, buying cigarettes and smoking will solve a certain problem. Unfortunately, in this instance, the problem will cause us many more problems including lung cancer and addiction. The “problem” is often created or reinforced by the advertising agencies to make us believe we have a problem that needs solving in the first place.

This is not to say that there is some conspiracy theory conjuring by advertisers trying to control the general population, it just goes to show the control that media has over our collective consciousness. Media often plays into our existing fears and insecurities and makes us believe our problems can be solved through the purchasing of goods and services as part of the greater mass consumer culture. In this case, cigarettes are framed as being sexy and appealing. The ad is directly targeted towards women and feeds into the ideal body type every woman desires, light and luscious. It’s quite the oxymoron if you think about it. The idea that a woman can be both “light” or “slim” and “luscious”, as in maintaining curves in all the right places, is an almost unattainable ideal. This perhaps is the most effective means of fulfilling common female vulnerabilities, reminding them that they are incomplete without the purchase of this product.

The second image in the form of a “culture jam” depicts the original ad initially advertised toward women in the first decades of the 20th century, adjusted to reveal the truth behind it. It’s no secret smoking is bad for your health and contributes to many deaths per year, yet companies continue to target women to change the socially accepted behaviour and sell more cigarettes. Cigarettes became part of the feminist movement through nothing more than clever marketing strategies. In an attempt to break down this phenomenon, an ad developed and marketed toward honest advertising has been created. The ad invites us to digest the original meaning of the ad and break down the meaning more critically. Clever images using the words “cancer sticks” have been laid on top of the original packaging. And let’s not pretend that the oxymoron “light & luscious” isn’t playing into gender stereotypes and reinforcing gender norms. Overall, this shows us that paying attention to how our health, bodies, body image, and behaviour is produced through effective marketing will allow us to take back control and face our fears.