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Sunday, January 30, 2011

"Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet"

Luckies green were pre WWII. Luckies red and white were introduced in 1942 after "Lucky Strike green goes to war." They were thought to be more "female friendly." (American Tobacco Co.)

We think there are a lot of con men around today but they are probably a small group compared to the guys who were in the advertising and promotion business of the 1920s.

That decade wasn’t called “The Roaring ‘20s” for nothing. It was a post WWI party for ten years that contributed greatly to the worst Depression in the history of the United States. Every night was party night and Prohibition only added to the fun with the characters it wrought. It also was the first decade of commercial radio which spawned a new generation of con artists with what we would consider today as outlandish advertising.

The number one guy in that group and probably the most successful was the head of the American Tobacco Company, George Washington Hill. Flamboyant and brilliant only begins to describe this guy who would ride to his Fifth Avenue office daily in a limo decorated with Lucky Strike cigarette packages.

Hill took over the company from his father in 1926 and was totally sold on radio as an advertising tool. Until radio, advertising was done in print but in 1928, Hill dropped all print ads and replaced them with a radio show called the “Lucky Strike Dance Hour.” Within two months, sales of Lucky Strike cigarettes went up 47%.

One day Hill looked out his limo window and saw two women standing at a bus stop. One was overweight and chewing gum. The other was thin and beautiful and smoking a cigarette. A light bulb lit in Hill’s head: women smokers were considered modern and daring in the 1920s but there were still millions of women who didn’t smoke. However, like today, most women were very conscious of their weight. That was the group Hill went after with his slogan, “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.” The candy makers were livid but sales of Lucky Strikes shot up again.

Other gimmicks like “It’s Toasted” and “LS/MFT” (Lucky Strike means fine tobacco) sold plenty of Lucky Strikes but probably his most creative idea was early in WWII when he was told that the green ink on the Lucky Strike package had to be discontinued because the chromium in the ink was needed for the production of tanks.

Hill was never one to pass up an opportunity to peddle more Luckies, so he redesigned the package to be white with a red and black bull’s eye. At the same time, he advertised that the discontinued green package was helping the troops and that “Lucky Strike green has gone to war.” It was a brilliant patriotic line that sold a lot of cigarettes but many people also thought it was just another way to sell more Luckies as Hill wanted a newly designed package anyway to lure more women to smoking.

He may have been a con artist but no one can doubt the success of George Washington Hill as a superb salesman and a true character from yesterday.


CJinPhoenix said...

Okay, having established that the Lucky Strikes brand was a pioneer in the way of advertising to maximize profits, nowadays we still have companies hawking their goods with false and misleading promises of unrealististic returns and targeting specific audiences. About the only thing that has really changed is that public outrage has made targeting certain audiences, such as children, wrong, especially when selling certain products. Like booze and, recently, happy meals. And tobacco products have been vilified to such an extent to make them illegal to advertise. Oh, sometimes they have to list the side effects ...

You want to take long warm walks along the beach with your significant other? Harden your relationship with a little pill. No news yet, though, how that works for men sitting alone at home sadly looking down at their dirty underwear during those commercials. Wanna look slim and lovely and regain your self-confidence? Here's a pill for you (never mind those nasty little side effects). And, of course, certain brands of beer will make you the life of the party and attract chicks like nothing you have ever seen (outside of your piles of Playboys). Now, where's the beef in those beefy tacos?

My favorites are the late night commercials. I have only met one phone sex woman, at least only one that wasn't ashamed to admit what she did for a living, but she so didn't look like the girls in those ads.

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