How e-Cigarette Brands Are Reigniting an Old Copywriting Trend
They say history has a habit of repeating itself and this adage is certainly proving to be true in e-cigarette advertising.
As a non-smoker, cigarette advertising, rather than the products themselves, is something that I’m intrigued by.
With the increasing dominance of e-cigarette brands (in an industry expected to be worth $10 billion in the next three years), it’s interesting to see that copywriters are tipping their hats to the brand messages first brought to our attention 60 years ago by the tobacco industry.
Here’s my analysis of the e-cigarette industry’s borrowings from the latter day tobacco industry.
The ‘Switch Don’t Quit’ Message
When the health industry raised concerns in the 1960’s about the impact smoking has on people’s health, copywriters in the tobacco industry had to change their tact, employing a more indirect advertising message.
For Lucky Strike, it was their ‘it’s toasted’ message that set them apart from the competition, in reference to the way the cigarette was manufactured.
For tobacco company True, their message was all about making a healthier choice. Their 1975 print campaign (below right) saw them use the slogan ‘Considering all I’d heard, I decided to either quit or Smoke True. I smoke True’, coupled with their ‘low tar, low nicotine – think about it’ message.
Similar to the ‘switch don’t quit’ message of yesteryear, U.S e-cigarette company Blu’s recent campaign (above left) is a good example of how today’s copywriters are paying homage to cigarette advertising of the past.
Similar sounding names aside, Blu opted for a message of ‘why quit? Switch to Blu’. The only thing missing from this slogan is a subtle acknowledgement that tobacco carries a health risk and it could be fit for an ad campaign belonging to 1975.
Interestingly, where True played on the health consciousness of consumers, Blu have taken their advertising hook one step further:
‘blu is the smart choice for smokers wanting a change. Take back your freedom to smoke when and where you want without ash or smell. blu is everything you enjoy about smoking and nothing else. Nobody likes a quitter, so make the switch today.’
Whereas True claimed that their cigarettes were better for your health, Blu have adopted a slightly less subtle approach with the line ‘nobody likes a quitter’, suggesting that giving up shows weakness of character.
The Power of a Grammatically Incorrect Sentence
In reference to the Blu print ad above, it seems that copywriters aren’t only reviving brand messages from yesteryear but they’ve also developed the poor grammar of their 1950’s counterparts – albeit to great effect.
As much as it pained me to reproduce the grammatically questionable message of Blu’s advert above, their copywriters have obviously given considerable thought to how the message should look on the page.
First of all, there’s the blatant disregard for the traditional rule of brand names beginning with a capital letter, referring to their product simply as ‘blu’, even at the start of a sentence.
Then there’s the use of the word ‘wanting’ in the phrase ‘blu is the smart choice for smokers wanting a change’. Shouldn’t that be ‘for smokers who want a change’?
Well, yes, it probably should but their phrasing somehow works better. The word ‘wanting’ suggests a longing for something, insinuating that you, the consumer, have always enjoyed smoking and always will. The word even carries a sense of nostalgia that the word ‘want’ doesn’t.
Another example I found of cigarette companies breaking the grammatical rules was Winston Cigarettes’ print campaign that ran from 1954 until 1972 with their slogan ‘Winston tastes good…like a cigarette should!’
It might not seem it today, but at the time, this slogan was clouded in controversy over its use of the word ‘like’ instead of ‘as’.
According to Wikipedia, the ad was decided upon by the William Esty Ad Agency and when Walter Cronkite, the host of America’s The Morning Show, read the slogan on air and changed ‘like’ to ‘as’, he came in for quite a bit of stick. Here’s the man himself talking about the incident:
Like (or should that be ‘as’) any good PR man will tell you, sometimes the best way to diffuse a situation is to see the funny side of things. In 1970, Winston’s writers adopted a new slogan with an almost self-effacing spin on the original.
In reference to the perceived shortcomings of the original slogan, Winston responded with a new tagline: ‘What do you want, good grammar or good taste?’
Keeping it Classy
Appealing to our desires to climb the social ladder has long been used as a hook in advertising and things are no different in the cigarette industry.
Consider the two print adverts below, one from Virginia Slims 1978 print campaign (below left) and one from the aforementioned Blu Cigarettes (below right).
Both adverts feature women and both deliver a message of social class. The Virginia Slims advert carries the slogan ‘you’ve come a long way baby’ and features a woman in her late thirties wearing a suit, pink jacket and carrying a briefcase.
And then we have today’s equivalent, with Blu’s ‘Smoke in Style’ slogan, again featuring a woman in her late thirties, elegantly draped over a chair and wearing a long blue evening dress. The slogan’s reference to style, achieves the same message as the Virginia Slims ad, suggesting that smoking Blu cigarettes is reflective of style and class.
A Character Persona with a Touch of Minimalism – An Age-Old Formula
During the 1950’s, cigarette companies developed character personas for their advertising campaigns and perhaps the most famous among them was Marlborough’s ‘Marlborough Man’.
Conceived by Leo Burnett from Leo Burnett Worldwide in 1954, their series of ads featured handsome, rugged men (very often cowboys) with a serious, confrontational expression on their faces. Have a look at the advert below left and its minimal slogan ‘The Marlborough Man’.
The short slogan speaks for itself and lets the visuals do the rest of the work as the advert associates Marlborough cigarettes with strength and physical prowess. In fact, this guy loves Marlborough cigarettes so much that he’s even went to the trouble of having their logo tattooed on the back of his hand – now that’s commitment!
And above right, we have an ad for UK e-cigarette company, E-Lites, who have seemingly reinvented the Marlborough Man for the 21st Century.
Making use of the minimal slogan ‘What are you missing?’, this advert also lets the visuals do the talking as a middle-aged, assumingly family man strikes a satisfied pose with his hands joined together in front of him, suggesting he’s ready for action.
Here, the slogan alludes to times gone by, provoking male consumers to think back to when they perhaps used to smoke but have since given up.
Playing heavily on the idea of temptation, the slogan invites its male audience to think back to the lifestyle that smoking used to afford them, back when they were original Marlborough Men.
To get more of a professional opinion on this trend, I asked UK freelance copywriter Laurence Blume, who in the past wrote for a number of major tobacco companies, what he thought of these comparisons. Here’s what he had to say:
‘Real cigarette advertising was all about image, mostly in a pre-internet age in which smoking was socially acceptable and even aspirational. Just about every aspect of those conditions has now changed.
Selling an e-cigarette today is such a fundamentally different job to selling a real cigarette in the fifties or even the seventies, that echoes are more likely to be self-pleasing allusions by copywriters than inspired reutilisation of previously successful strategies.
An e-cigarette is, by definition, a compromise, a way to pander to your weakness having succumbed to sensible concerns for your health.
The vocabulary of real cigarette advertising was based on the consumer’s desire to be tough, strong brave or successful in a way that would have made such compromise unthinkable.’
As the e-cigarette industry looks set to grow into an industry as big as that of tobacco, it appears that their copywriters are aspiring to the same advertising success enjoyed by the tobacco industry in the 50’s and 60’s.
What do you think about this revival of an old copywriting trend? Have you noticed this in any other industry? I’d be keen to hear what you think.
Image source – https://www.flickr.com/photos/87735223@N02/9631710650