Virginia Slims ad (1984), "theory of slimness," encouraged women to smoke to stay thin. Image Source: Stanford University.
A news item from June 2012 reported that cancer deaths were on the rise among Baby Boomer women, particularly in the southern United States. The cause was the successful Virginia Slims marketing campaign, which equated long slim cigarettes with women's liberation in the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s:
Virginia Slims women's cigarettes were developed in 1968 by Philip Morris. But it was the brilliant and insidious women's lib marketing by the Leo Burnett advertising agency that made the brand a household name.a recent study published on June 25 in the Journal of Clinical Oncology says that lung cancer deaths are "steady or rising" among middle-aged women who live in the South or Midwest.What could be the cause of such a dramatic, unexpected spike? The researchers of this study point to two factors: a cultural shift in the 1960s-70s, and different geographical attitudes regarding anti-smoking legislation."In the 60s and 70s, there was a sharp increase in the number of girls, not boys, who started to smoke," said Ahmedin Jemal in an interview with USNews.com's HealthDay. Jemal is vice president of surveillance research for the American Cancer Society and the lead author of this study. "These women are now in their 50s, and already we're seeing a sharp rise in deaths from lung cancer in this group."A generation of women reached late adolescence and their early 20s at a time when women's empowerment was on the rise, according to HealthDay. A 1968 cigarette campaign tied to that cultural shift, "You've come a long way, baby," marketed Virginia Slims to teenage girls and young women.According to Reuters, the study is based on data for more than one million U.S. white women aged 35 to 84, who died of lung cancer between 1973 and 2007.
An introductory Virginia Slims ad from 1968 looking back a 1915 wife, busted for smoking. Image Source: pinterest.
Virginia Slims ad (1969), "first, you got the vote, and now you've got a cigarette all your own." Image Source: etsy.
"Someday" (1970). Image Source: Fortune City.
Virginia Slims ad (1971), Superwomen, "biologically superior to men." Image Source: eBay.
Virginia Slims ad (1972-1973), "slimmer to fit you." Image Source: pinterest.
Leo Burnett is the same Chicago-based agency that handles Fiat, Samsung, Procter & Gamble, Kellogg's, Coca-Cola, GM, McDonald's and Pfizer (makers of ChapStick, Xanax, Lipitor ("the world's best-selling drug of all time, with more than $125 billion in sales over approximately 14.5 years"), Zoloft, Viagra and the occasional genetically-modified virus). Wiki:
The genius of the firm's Virginia Slims ads lay in the way they paved the way for inverted feminine thinking about the emancipation of women while female consumers simultaneously became enslaved by cigarettes, tobacco and nicotine. The Virginia Slims ads were the opening chapter in an incredible narrative. The ads' reverse mindthink was the real innovation, such that now empowerment and liberation can be ironically and cynically reversed in Millennial ads for nicotine cessation aids and electronic cigarettes.From inception, Virginia Slims have been designed and marketed as a female-oriented fashion brand, generally targeted towards a younger demographic (18–35 year olds). While various themes have emerged in the marketing campaigns over the years, the basic threads have been independence, liberation, slimness, attractiveness, glamour, style, taste, and a contrast to men's cigarettes. A report by the Surgeon General of the United States has interpreted these marketing strategies as attempting to link smoking "to women's freedom, emancipation, and empowerment." This report also tied the increase of smoking among teenage girls to rises in sales of Virginia Slims and other "niche" brands marketed directly to women.
In the 1960s and 1970s, the themes of feminism and women's liberation, with the slogan "You've Come A Long Way, Baby" were often used in the ads, and often featured anecdotes about women in the early 20th century who were punished for being caught smoking, usually by their husbands or other men, as compared to the time of the ads when more women had equal rights, usually comparing smoking to things like the right to vote.
Nowadays, a woman could be liberated, but all that's taken as read, water under the bridge, no longer an issue. This allows Millennial ad makers to return to oversexualized feminine ads targeting men and women, which trumpet empowerment through base self-indulgence. By the 2010s, the message was not women's freedom in society using the cigarette as a phallic symbol of strength, but libertine freedom to manage addiction in an eco-friendly way.
Virginia Slims ad with Cheryl Tiegs and a tool chest offer (1974). Image Source: Found in Mom's Basement.
|Image Source: CDC.|
Image Source: Cigarettes Guide.
New clichés for the English language. Image Source: pinterest.
See more Virginia Slims ads, and evolving commercials from the tobacco industry, smoking cessation aid companies, e cigarette businesses, and lung cancer drug firms, below the jump.