Cigarettes and the Seduction of Women
Although smoking is now socially akin to having two heads and a contagious disease, when it was at its fashionable peak in the 20th century, many people were persuaded to believe it was the smart, sophisticated thing to do. Film stars did it, and so did politicians, singers, sports stars, the intelligentsia, dentists and even doctors.
However, in the very early part of the last century, half the population didn't smoke. This bothered the US cigarette manufacturers. After all, they were losing out on fifty percent of the market. The general thinking out there among the seething masses was that a smoking woman was very unladylike and well, just not nice and as a result, most women eschewed the practice. The tobacco heads knew they had to break this powerful social taboo, so they passed the problem on to the marketing men, who formed a brainstorming huddle. What to do..? Somehow they had to change the social mindset and get those feminine lips sucking on a Lucky Strike.
Now around this time, a certain faction of women were getting a bit toey about not having the vote and various other discriminatory irritations. The women were making loud noises about 'freedom' and 'rights' and 'we want what men have.' This was an interesting turn of events and by the time the 1920s rolled around, one of the sharper ad men saw a promising chink in the conservative social armour of the demographic the tobacco industry was trying to crack open.
Thank You, Mr. Freud!
Since the turn of the century, the great mover and shaker Sigmund Freud had been revolutionalising thinking. A new way of looking at the human mind had emerged, and there was a shift away from ideas of the soul toward a mechanistic approach. Freud came up with some compelling theories about the irrational, unconscious motives that drive human behaviour.
Enter Freud's nephew (by marriage), Edward Bernays - Bernays invented the term public relations and although not widely known, was one of the most influential figures of the 20th century. Setting himself up as a PR expert in an office in New York, he was the first to take Freud's ideas and use them to manipulate the masses. Bernays showed corporations that they could persuade people to want things they didn't need by linking mass produced goods to unconscious desires. One of his most famous campaigns was the marketing of cigarettes to women.
To a certain extent WWI had wrought enough social change to see some women take up smoking; mainly college co-eds and women who had been overseas or taken up factory jobs previously held by men -but it wasn't enough. Although the numbers of female smokers had doubled between 1923 and 1928, it was still only at 12 %. Bernays began working for the American Tobacco Company, manufacturers of Lucky Strikes, in 1928 and the president of the company, George Hill, wanted Bernays to squash the social taboo around women smoking. Fascinated by his Uncle Sigmund's theory of psychoanalysis, Bernays contacted A.A. Brill, one of the first psychoanalysts in the US, who informed Bernays(for a very large fee) that cigarettes were a symbol of the penis.
Suck on That
"If you can use propaganda for war, you can certainly use it for peace. Propaganda got to be a bad word because of the Germans use of it, so what I did was to try to find some other word. We found the term 'Council for Public Relations'."
Psychoanalysis changed the 'pubic relations' industry forever...politically and commercially. The idea was that through the satisfaction of inner selfish desires, the masses could be made happy and compliant. "It was the start of the all-consuming self that has come to dominate today"~ Steven Pinker
Back in the 1920s, Bernays reasoned that If cigarettes were a symbol of male phallic empowerment/sexual power, then they could also be a way for women to challenge that power. A smoking woman was laying down the gauntlet to conservative, sexist social mores and in effect, taking the penis into her own hands. Or as Brill had said, "They would have their own penises."
It was a shift in selling by way of the intellect, to persuasion via unconscious desire. This was about what you buy making you *feel good*, rather than about what you may need and it's an idea that still drives the wheels of consumerism today, perhaps even more persuasively than ever.
Torches of Freedom
The Easter Sunday Parade of 1929 was a popular New York event attended by thousands, and in an act of contrived deception, Bernays convinced a group of rich debutantes to join the parade and at a given signal by him, take out cigarettes which they had hidden under their clothes and light them up with a dramatic, eye-catching flourish.
Bernays had informed the press that a group of suffragettes were going to protest by lighting up what he called "torches of freedom"..(a term coined by Brill). The event became big news not just in the American press, but internationally. One woman, a Miss Hunt dispatched the following remarks to her local newspaper:
“I hope that we have started something and that these torches of freedom, with no particular brand favored, will smash the discriminatory taboo on cigarettes for women and that our sex will go on breaking down all discriminations.”
Thus an association was formed between the fight for female equality and smoking. Trend setters and forward thinkers began lighting up, as to smoke now meant to be socially progressive - a symbol of liberation and before too long, the general public followed suit. That single symbolic act at the Easter Parade had signified a breaking down of the social barriers for women smokers and sales began to rise and rise.
Bernays found other ways too, of persuading women to smoke and one of these was through body image and the new fashion for slimness. He plied fashion editors with a steady stream of photos featuring slender Parisian models in haute couture dresses and convinced women that smoking could satisfy their hunger without hurting their figures. Even on the the homefront, he emphasised the importance of cigarettes, pointing out that the good housewife should never let stocks run low.
In 1928 the president of American tobacco, George Hill, had said of breaking the female market; “It will be like opening a new gold mine right in our front yard.” and he was right. So was Bernays.
Molly Bales, The Harvard Brain
Steve Pinker, The Staff of Thought (documentary)
Larry Tye, Father of Spin