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Rewind: Happy Smoking From Lucky Strike

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Advertising Age Player

How do you say Merry Christmas 200 times without your lips cramping up?

Well, if you lived back in 1955, you could just give a holiday carton of Lucky Strike cigarettes. It was the gift that kept on giving … cancer, emphysema, heart disease and so on and so forth.

The ad featured the famous Lucky Strike slogan -- "It's toasted" -- which, no matter what "Mad Men" says, was coined in 1917, not to mention some other awesome adventures in copywriting: "Friends, here's a wonderful Christmas gift for anyone who smokes, because it says 'Merry Christmas' and 'Happy Smoking.'" See what they did there? Who needs a happy new year when you can have a "happy smoking?"

The ad appeared on "Your Hit Parade," a Lucky Strike-sponsored program featuring elaborate productions of popular songs of the day. It ran on radio from 1935 to 1955 and on TV from 1950 to 1959. Back in those days, Batten Barton Durstein & Osborne had the Lucky Strike account. You may know it better now as BBDO.

Viewed almost 60 years later, in a time when cigarette ads have been legislated almost out of existence, the idea of an overt holiday promotion for cigarettes is just about unthinkable. Perhaps even more mindblowing is that an ad intended for the general populace would bother to mention the name of the package designer. But this case was a special one, and it's even likely that your average consumer might have been familiar with the name of Raymond Loewy, the guy who yuled up the Lucky Strike carton and who in 1949 became the first industrial designer to appear on the cover of Time magazine.

The French-born Mr. Loewy, who died in 1986, designed logos (Shell, BP); cars (Studebaker Avanti, Champion); locomotives; vending machines; refrigerators; Coke bottles; Nabisco cookies, and his firm came up with the name Exxon. In 1940, he redesigned the Lucky Strike package, winning a $50,000 bet from American Tobacco President George Washington Hill, who didn't think he could do the job. That, by the way, would have been a, $822,000 bet in 2012 dollars. Ballers! Mr. Loewy's chief change was to trade a dark green background for a white one and to put the iconic target logo on both sides of the pack.

While this murky video quality makes it difficult to evaluate the Lucky Strike Christmas, the effort seems a bit slapdash. Don Draper would not approve. He might have even said something like, "All I have is a pine cones, and four out of five dead people smoked your brand."

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