All three major tobacco companies were acutely aware of the changes taking place in the market during and immediately after WWI. The marketing men kept their eyes on the demographic statistics and the sales people took note of the cult of youth which was forming after the war. All were deeply interested in the female smoker, the largest untapped market in the nation. Earlier ads had hinted at the subject but usually in an indirect way as Turkish style cigarette ads pictured female models holding a pack of Moguls or Murads but none actually showed women smoking.
But times were changing and men like George Washington Hill at American Tobacco set their sights on popularizing cigarette smoking among the newly liberated female population. Some of Hill’s most famous campaigns for Lucky Strike evolved from the work of one of his most trusted advertising men, Edward Bernays. It was Bernays who hired a psychoanalyst to bolster his theory that some women regarded cigarettes as symbols of freedom and then hired attractive models to smoke Luckies in public. Later, he enlisted debutantes in his ads convincing them that they were striking a blow for women’s, freedom by endorsing smoking and Lucky Strikes in particular. When Hill expressed his concerns to Bernays that women might not be attracted to the dark green Lucky Strike packaging, the ad man set out to do nothing less than make green the most fashionable color. Working with friends in the fashion industry, Bernays paid for such events as Onandaga Silk’s “Green Fashion Luncheon” which featured green menus, green beans, asparagus salad, pistachio mousse glace and crème de menthe. There was also a “Green Charity Ball” sponsored by prominent socialite, Mrs. Frank Vanderlip and paid for by American Tobacco. Amazingly, green did become “the color” that year. Hill was pleased and Bernay’s got a raise.
Edward Bernays was also instrumental in popularizing the notion that cigarettes represented a "torch of freedom" for women. As late as 1922, a woman could be arrested for lighting up a cigarette on the street. In fact, this actually did happen in New York City in May of that year. By 1929, social norms had changed somewhat but Bernays was determined to make a very strong statement on the subject of women smoking in public (and at the same time push up the sales of cigarettes). This led to the famous "torches of freedom" incident at the 1929 Easter Parade in New York City. Barnays very carefully staged an event wherein a group of mostly socially prominent women would join in the parade and simultaneously light up cigarettes. As Bernays had planned (actually calling several newspapers in advance), the event caught the attention of the press and at least one participent who was interviewed declared that she felt that cigarettes were like a "torch of freedom" for women..Pictures of the participants, with their cigarettes in hand, appeared in papers around the world and attracted quite a bit of attention and controversy just as the marketing wizard had hoped.
Women may well have joined the ranks of smokers in equal numbers during the Jazz Age without any prompting from tobacco men like George Washington Hill but we may never know for sure.
|Mrs. Taylor-Scott Hardin parades down New York's Fifth Avenue with her husband while smoking "torches of freedom,"a gesture of protest for absolute equality with men.|
Tobacco and Americans by Robert Helmann, 1960