In the April/May issue of Canada’s History, historian Sharon Anne Cook looks at 20th century tobacco advertising in her article “When Smoking was Chic.”
I’ve always found popular culture and advertising fascinating because they give us a multi-faceted source for understanding the past. While media certainly has a lot of influence in shaping trends and perceptions, it also reflects the values of a society at that moment in time.
In her article, Cook presents ads aimed at women and explores the changing roles of women throughout the 20th century. From “respectable” ladies to the working woman, we can see how images of women in media change over time.
Virginia Slims was one cigarette brand that capitalized on, and reflected, the changing role of women. Their famous 1968 campaign “You’ve come a long way, baby!” equated cigarettes with freedom and smoking as a new right that women gained through the early women’s movement. In the midst of a new wave of feminism of the 60s and 70s, Virginia Slims appealed to a new generation of women. Of course, it’s interesting to note that Virginia Slims reinforce traditional forms of femininity – with slim cigarettes designed for “the feminine hand” (and presumably make the woman feel slim), packs that fit into a purse, and a light taste designed for women.
This video is a compilation of tv ads from the early “You’ve come a long way, baby” campaign. There are some real gems in here:
I found this video through the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, hosted by the University of California, San Francisco. This massive database was created to house internal documents related to the tobacco industry, but it also has a lot of interesting media and multimedia files. The database is text-searchable and you can filter by collection, as well.
The Stanford Research into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising is another great place to look for smoking ads. They have a lot of high-quality images, which are grouped by theme for easy searching and browsing.
MediaSmarts is another good source for teaching about media and advertising. They have a number of lesson plans specifically about tobacco advertising, such as:
Gender and Tobacco - In this lesson, students explore gender-related influences on smoking.
Selling Tobacco - In this lesson, students explore how tobacco advertising has evolved over the past sixty years.
Tobacco Advertising in Canada - In this lesson, students explore the ways in which tobacco products are marketed in Canada.
If you're interested in learning more about tobacco advertising, you can check out Sharon Cook's book Sex, Lies, and Cigarettes: Canadian Women, Smoking, and Visual Culture, 1880–2000.
You might also be interested in Advertising: Reflections of Culture and Value, written by Rose Fine-Meyer (2007 recipient of the Governor General's History Award for Excellence in Teaching) and Stephanie K. Gibson. The book is designed for grade 9-12 students.