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Monday, August 28, 2006

WHEN CIGARETTES RULED THE AIRWAVES

(Originally published in the INDEPENDENT, October, 2005)

by Jim McAllister

The date is January 1, 1971. At 11:59 p.m. on "The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson", a commercial runs for Virginia Slims cigarettes. This commercial is significant since it is the last advertisement for cigarettes ever run on television thus ending a long run of cute ads and jingles designed to impress the public with the virtues of smoking.
If you are a certain age, you probably remember most of these ads: There was, "I’d walk a mile for a Camel", "You get a lot to like with a Marlboro; filter, flavor, flip-top box" (You can also get lung cancer as two of the handsome, rugged, Marlboro men found out), "Smoke Kent with the micronite filter", and "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should". When chastised by English teachers for using bad grammar (using "like" instead of "as") Winston replied, "What do you want, good taste or good grammar?" I never heard the teachers complain about, "Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch" which is equally bad grammar. But, would smokers really care as long as they had their precious smokes? There was Willie the Penguin proclaiming: "Tired of hots? Smoke Kools", Oasis touting, "Smoke the big O", Old Gold with their dancing packs and on and on, ad infinitum.
When radio station KDKA in Pittsburgh came on the air with commercial radio in 1919, a new medium was established for companies to advertise their products. Cigarettes had been popular in print ads for years. Radio, and later television, would become natural outlets for their messages.
1933 was a fateful year for young 22 year old Johnnie Roventini. In April of that Depression racked year, Johnnie was a bellboy working at the Hotel New Yorker in New York City. Johnnie enjoyed a bit of fame as he was considered, at four feet in height, "the smallest bellboy in the world" and featured as such on the hotel’s postcards. One evening Alfred E. Lyon, Vice President of Sales for Philip Morris cigarettes and Milton Biow, President of the advertising agency that handled the Philip Morris account, happened to be in the lobby of the New Yorker. They had quite a task ahead of them: How to increase sales of a little known cigarette brand. They had already established a logo of a snappy bellboy shouting the merits of their brand but felt that they needed a live version to further establish the Philip Morris name. Enter Johnnie Roventini. As a bellboy, he was required to call out guest’s names in the lobby if those individuals had messages. A routine task for many, Johnnie poured his heart and soul into calling the guest’s names. He did it in such a convincing manner that he made the person feel like the most important person in the hotel! When Lyon and Biow heard Johnnie, they decided to give him a radio audition without letting him know. They gave him a dollar and asked him to page, "Mr. Philip Morris." After a few calls of "Call for Phil-lip Morr-ees" echoed through the New Yorker lobby, they knew they had their spokesman.
When offered the job of saying, "Call for Philip Morris" over the radio, Johnnie was a bit reluctant to accept. Radio was still fairly new and he was making $25 per week at the hotel, good money in 1933. He did eventually take the job and became an advertising icon for over forty years completing his Horatio Alger journey with his death at 88 in 1998.

4 comments:

Anonymous said...

Hi Jim,
Enjoyed your article again! I wonder, over the years, how many of the CEOS and promoters of cigarettes have died of lung cancer? Surely they used their products to set an example.
NEM

Anonymous said...

Hello again, Jim!

Last night I went with my two teens to the movies. First of all, I have to let you know that I have now reached the stage where the young folks at the ticket counter just give me the senior citizen ticket price even though I make absolutely no effort to get it! Oh well! I've decided just to roll with it if it means I can get in for cheaper! In some cases even $5.50 is asking too much for some of today's stinkers. "Crank" definitely fell into this category as far as I'm concerned. My son and I are big fans of Jason Stratam, but this was one of the worst movies he has ever made. Our movie ended earlier than the one my daughter and her friend were seeing, so we decided to go over with them and check out "The Wickerman". If you like being scared, this is the one for you! It was pretty disturbing stuff, but Nicholas Cage is wonderful is anything he does! Burning the wickerman is a ritual that some pagans still do today, however, animals and undesirable humans as sacrifices are no longer burned in an attempt to bring in better crops the next year! If there is a sequel, James Franco could be in trouble. Run James run!

Best wishes,

Cindy

Anonymous said...

Who knows where to download XRumer 5.0 Palladium?
Help, please. All recommend this program to effectively advertise on the Internet, this is the best program!

Jim McAllister said...

Anonymous,

I wish I knew on X Palladium. Hope you find out how to download it.