Lucky Strikes, named so after the Gold Rush, began as a brand for chewing tobacco and evolved from there into one of the top selling cigarette brands of the 1930s— partially due to their focus on a female audience. It is estimated that only 4 out of every 1,000 diggers would ever actually strike gold, and so Lucky Strike used this vision to set themselves apart in a saturated cigarette market—the cigarette name evoked a sense of rarity— that the men who smoked the brand would become enviable and wealthy.
Many cigarette companies had tried to appeal to a female audience in the 1910s and ‘20s, though the response was lackluster. Women were hesitant to smoke—it was socially unacceptable at the time, deemed only a man’s hobby, and so tobacco companies carefully tried to persuade the general public’s view to include women. In these early advertisements, women were shown holding open cigarette boxes (never smoking them), or, in the case of a 1925 Chesterfield ad, were seen watching a man smoke with the slogan “Blow Some My Way.” One Camel advertisement from 1928 shows a woman surrounded by two men, she is not holding a cigarette (the two men are), but the slogan reads, “Personally, I Smoke for Pleasure,” implying that she is the one who is speaking.
Advertisements were gentle about the topic, but in 1929, Lucky Strike schemed to create an advertising campaign that would link female smokers with the Emancipation Movement, and they were very forthcoming about it.
The American Tobacco Company hired Edward Bernays, a successful marketer, to take on the challenge. Bernays hired ten models, and for the 1929 New York Easter Parade, dressed each of them up as a Statue of Liberty, and held cigarettes up in their hands as torches. The parade was heavily promoted in the nation’s newspapers, and seen by millions. The U.S. Tobacco Journal states that 5% of all smokers were women in 1924, 13% in 1928, and 40% by 1950.
Lucky Strike went on to create what is considered one of the most famous slogans in all of advertising history— “Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet,” reminding women of the slimming benefits of tobacco smoking, and why a cigarette should be chosen first over a piece of candy. This advertising technique would be widely used when marketing cigarettes toward women until the end of the 20th century.
The decade following World War II was the biggest for the tobacco industry. Americans smoked more than they ever had before and ever have since. Cigarettes were included in soldier kits overseas, and back home people were supporting their troops and more than happy to support the purveyors of their cigarettes. In the case of Lucky Strike, a successful advertising campaign ran that swapped out the normally green label for a white one. The brand stated that the green label had “gone to war,” because the copper used to make the green label was needed for WWII—this, in reality, was actually just a tactic to appeal to a broader female audience—market studies had shown that the green wasn’t as attractive to females as the white. The ingredient used to make the green dye was actually chromium, and not copper, but Lucky Strike doctored this up a bit by presumably aiding in the war effort. Their famous slogan at the time was “L. S. M. F. T.” or “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.” The initials were used as a way to mimic Morse Code.
We carry cigarette advertisements up until the early 1970s, when health authorities worldwide warned of the side effects of smoking. It is interesting following our group of Tobacciana ads in chronological order, watching how women move from the background and into the foreground.
Collection Image Back Story - This image comes from an original 1938 illustrated ad showing Joan Crawford delivery Lucky Strike as a holiday gift. You can find the original ad here.
Image reference: The billboard image shown at the top of this post was captured high resolution from a 1925 original lithograph obtained by Period Paper depicting early Lucky Strike billboard advertising.
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