A vintage Benson & Hedge's ad evokes a cheekier (but no less deadly) era of cigarette marketing
Sometimes an ad gets just a little too truthful for its own good.
By the time this 1972 full-pager for Benson & Hedges 100’s ran in Life magazine, smoking was widely understood to be associated with a range of serious diseases. So, sure, let’s equate using our product to jumping out of a plane.
Bought by Philip Morris in 1958, Benson & Hedges is a British brand and still a subsidiary of the American conglomerate Philip Morris International. This ad was part of a larger “favorite cigarette break” campaign that leaned into the fact that Benson & Hedges offered longer cigarettes at the same price point, so people kept accidentally snapping the suckers in two. “Nobody had ever mutilated a cigarette before in American advertising—cigarettes, like automobiles, had always been treated with reverent respect by their manufacturers,” Mad Woman Mary Wells Lawrence wrote in her 2002 memoir “A Big Life (In Advertising).”
“Anything anti-establishment seemed smart in the mid-’60s, so our advertising made Benson & Hedges wildly hip and cool and the cigarette to be seen with.” (Lawrence, the first female CEO listed on the New York Stock Exchange, is still alive at 91. Must not have been a smoker.)
But the times? They are a-changin’. Benson & Hedges parent PMI was in the news last week as merger talks between it and Altria Group, another American purveyor of cancer, broke down. Altria itself holds a minority stake in Juul Labs, the embattled e-cigarette maker that is under scrutiny for its vaping products. Also last week, Kevin Burns, the CEO of Juul Labs, announced that he would be stepping down—only to be replaced by a tobacco executive. Please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position and that your seat belt is fastened.
Juul has been having about as a good a time as our free-falling friend in this ad: At least nine people have died around the country from mysterious vape-related lung illnesses in recent months. Juul had also been under scrutiny for heavily marketing on social media and targeting kids. The company had promised to help wean folks off cigarettes, but came under fire for allegedly containing more nicotine than cigarettes. Last week Juul announced it would stop all marketing in the U.S.
So smoke ’em if you got ’em, fellas. Just pray there’s a parachute in that knapsack.