Teatime with Vintage Ads

The smoking “influencers” of yesteryear – why it worked, still does today

For this new format, we’ve come up with something special: We’ll look at vintage ads, drink a cup of tea and talk about what was current at the time, what might still be terrific today and what wouldn’t work at all anymore.

Sounds fun? It is!

This time we took a look at two cigarette ads featuring “influencers.”

No, of course, we’re not talking about YouTubers and the like, but influential people, in this case, actors, who lend their faces to the brand. So a celebrity testimonial as they still exist today.

Before we give too much away here, let’s just take a look.

Our first Vintage Ad:

Robt. Burns Cigarillos / Lauren Bacall & Humphrey Bogart as Testimonials

Vintage Ad for Cigarillos showing Lauren Bacall and Humphrey Bogart on a Sailboat
Stephanie: Lauren Bacall and her husband promoting cigarillos. What catches your eye first, Kristin?

Kristin: This motif gets off to an exciting start: Lauren Bacall, world star and one of the most successful actresses of the Golden Era (!), does advertising – and then her name is only there in brackets. The focus is on “Mrs. Humphrey Bogart.”

It’s like booking JLo for a commercial, then putting her husband next to her while reducing her to her role as a wife. But that’s exactly what this is all about. She says:

“I love to see a man smoke a cigarillo”

which kind of says a little bit, “Yes, babes, that’s how he got me. I just thought his cigarillos were sexy.” *laughs*

Stephanie: Well, she WAS 25 years younger than him. Surely, and especially at that time, the dream of many men was to “get” such a young woman. In the small text, this is also clarified again: Lauren Bacall speaks for “style-wise women everywhere” and “from a feminine point of view” when she advertises these cigarillos.

Kristin: Yes, she is not supposed to smoke them herself, but to show how attractive it is when HE smokes the cigarillos. The message is clear:

So the men who smoke THIS BRAND will be the ones able to impress Lauren Bacall and the likes.

That’s basically the “narrative,” the story that’s being told here. The fact that advertising tells stories, as it is currently called “storytelling” again, is therefore absolutely nothing new. That has always existed. And a story like this, one just likes to be told.

Notable also the way the copy is phrased

“delicious smoking pleasure in a shape, trim and handy as a cigarette”.

Of course, for the time being, the phrase refers directly to the cigarillo, the slender cigar, yet more “manly” than the cigarette. The words themselves could also be associated with the woman’s body. Especially at that time, the “trim shape” was the non-plus-ultra of the good wife.

Here, a connection is deliberately made between that shape and the cigarillo. A bit like Pavlov’s dog. The cigarillo is the bell, the food is the woman and at some point the association between the two becomes automatic.

Stephanie: The narrative is even reflected in the image, isn’t it?

Humphrey figuratively has the wheel in one hand and the cigarillo in the other. He is the boss.

Lauren Bacall, on the other hand, sits decoratively and lightly dressed on the edge of her seat, smiling into the camera with a dose of bedroom eyes. Nail polish, make-up, wasp waist, and blow-dry hairstyle: everything is in place, not a trace of wind or physical activity. She does not play an active role on the boat.

Nevertheless, both are explicitly referred to as “expert sailors”.

Kristin: Yes, the sailing topic is a so-called “determinator”, a quality-giving signal. Basically, they could be sitting anywhere.

But sailing as a prestigious hobby is associated with the upper class and was deliberately chosen here as a symbolic context. The symbols of prestige, class, style – all of this helps here to span the brand world. The men of the high-class smoke cigarillo and get so also these young stylish women in their boat!

The fact that Lauren Bacall is used here as an influencer is solely for attention (as in the sales funnel). Like bait. Nevertheless, it is the man who does the advertising. That was actually always the case in these Vintage Ads. If it was not about household or cosmetics, the man has always advertised and a woman was put at most as a reinforcer/praiser/admirer to it.

Stephanie: In our next vintage ad, yes, it’s a man, let’s take a look at that. There we have

Ronald Reagan (in his acting days, before his presidency) promoting Chesterfield cigarettes.

Vintage Chesterfield Ad showing Ronald Reagan at his desk

Kristin: Hach, isn’t that beautiful!

Ronald Reagan sends here the Chesterfields to all his friends because Christmas is coming up. The whole image screams “I’m doing storytelling!” – even more than the first one.

The first sentence, “I’m sending Chesterfields to all of my friends.” already speaks volumes.

Whoever is Reagan’s friend is A. a smoker and B. smokes Chesterfields.

Completely natural.

And “that’s the merriest Christmas any smoker can have.” – as if it were a fact. Proven fact.

The message being: You can’t do better than Chesterfield.

Stephanie: In today’s advertising it would be unthinkable to promote cigarettes combined with Christmas romance!? The illustration, however, underlines this feeling. The ultimate pre-Christmas dream: wrapping presents and writing Christmas cards… except instead of presents, there are stacks of cigarettes.

How absurd from today’s perspective, isn’t it?

Kristin: Totally! The Holiday Edition of the cigarette bar stacks up on his teak desk with the marble bookends, shiny thick books as well as the hunter figurine with duck. So this is what it should look like in a dignified household just before Christmas!

There sits a Ronald Reagan in his suit with pocket square, tie and cufflinks at home, top styled hair, and signs the boxes all himself lovingly (he is just a nice guy! ;)) with “Ronnie”, as you can see on the one label. Firstly, this literally screams “successful man”, prestige and upper class, as did the sailboat earlier – and secondly, this is just wonderfully detailed and thought out!

Of course, his close friends call him by his nickname “Ronnie” – which makes the ad super personal. Apparently, he has as many close friends as there are boxes stacking up and ALL of them get Chesterfields because that is THE best gift imaginable. Also under the text above is his signature, while he holds the pen in his hand and inscribes gifts. It’s like he just signed that. Very cleverly arranged.

This is the purposeful use of symbols in storytelling as it is in the book – from A to Z. Some are obvious and others subtle. All together, they create a powerfully woven advertising message.

Stephanie: Of course, he smokes a Chesterfield himself and smiles radiantly at the consumers…

Kristin:…with gleaming white teeth!

Teeth as white as the cigarette itself, the curtains – or his shirt.

Smoky yellow teeth and discolored textiles? With Chesterfield never!

And this despite the fact that he apparently smokes them by the stick. This is also part of the story that is told here.

This has nothing to do with the facts, but mainly with what the viewer wants to hear.

Stephanie: When you see the picture, you think of a woody smell somehow, with a bit of fire from the Christmas wreath and maybe someone is still baking cookies in the background. Realistically, you wouldn’t smell anything in that room – except the cigarette in the corner of his mouth. And even the cigarette doesn’t smoke at all in the picture, so you don’t think about the smell.

Kristin: Yes, that brings us to the topic of creative freedom.

At that time, realism wasn’t taken too seriously – and it didn’t have to be. This is the great advantage of illustration, which, by the way, can also be used today and also in digital marketing – for example, to direct the focus on something. The cigarette does not smoke, the pack floats in the picture like the oversized Christmas wreath hanging in the middle of the curtain.

Apart from that, the arrangement here is clearly a Pro job. The romantic image with lots of details in the background, above this personal statement and below the slogan, which is in the foreground and on the right the large cigarette pack, thanks to which you immediately know what it’s all about. After all, the Christmas boxes do not even resemble cigarette packaging.

Stephanie: Right. This could also be chocolates or something.

Kristin: One last detail: Reagan was also allowed to put in his Call to Action. Promoting his latest film. Also with Bacall and Bogart, it was already written in which film they played. That was completely normal back then and is still more common in the U.S. than here.

When a star comes on a talk show, they constantly refer to the new movie or the new album. That is not quite so ‘normal’ here in Germany. German people have a different relationship to advertising – for us, anything promotional is quickly perceived as too much.

An American person would perceive the CTA (Call to Action) as the logical right of the professional.

The Vintage Ads at a glance:

Digital marketing takeaways for today and here

Die diskutierten Vintags Ads im Vergleich

What marketing methods work so well here:

Storytelling, symbols, social proof, the influencer effect

Please don’t! Mark it down for today’s digital marketing:

  • Sexism: We don’t need to talk about the image of women in the first commercial. Though a rather harmless example within the context of that time period, sexism is now increasingly denounced in advertisements.
  • Ill-considered brand cooperation: Lending one’s face to the tobacco industry is a move that a celebrity today would consider very carefully (apart from the fact that this is no longer an option under advertising law in most countries). The decision which brands (and industries) one lends one’s face/brand to, today will be scrutinized much more critically and, in case of doubt, has clear consequences for one’s own success.

What kind of inspiration can we draw from these vintage ads for our digital marketing today?

Storytelling: Ads that tell a story still work best! When things have to be told quickly (and they almost always do), symbols fulfill the function of quickly bringing the viewer into a certain world, as explained above. In moving media, for example, music also plays a major role in this.

– Influencer / Social Proof: As you can see from this, the so-called “Influencer Effect” as well as Social Proof” is nothing new per se. They were just called something else in the past (“Testimonial” for the most part). Let’s think of all the celebrities who have said “Because you’re worth it.”, or “I feel beautiful with Maybelline Jade.” into the camera. Whether they do it on TV or on Instagram today, it doesn’t matter in itself, as long as it reaches the right target audience. Ads in which supposed doctors (hello, white coat!) praise toothpaste or housewives rave about a dishwashing liquid are also examples of social proof campaigns. So it doesn’t even have to be the celebrity.

What is more important is that the person has relevance and authority for the target group.

Want to know more, or need help with your own marketing?

Contact us HERE, we look forward to hearing from you!

Kristin Reinbach

As the owner of agency „OVERW8“ and building on more than 20 years experience in marketing, Kristin is consistently thinking along the terms of ‚customer value‘, ‚brand value‘ as well as business models. Consistently meaning when she’s out for dinner, sitting in a cosy ski hut as well as having a sundowner wine at a vineyard. Like this, it’s simple logic that her primary job now is to support entrepreneurs and entrepreneurial teams with this know-how to create more brand value, more customer value and thus more company value. She’s sharing some of these nuggets here on OVERW8’s blog.

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