Periodically, people post tobacco ads from the thirties or forties with endorsements from doctors such as: “The doctor smokes and recommends Capstan – the cigarette for health as well as pleasure!”
However, considering the strict restrictions worldwide on tobacco advertising today, it may be appropriate to quote a popular line from the category’s own advertising of the swinging seventies: ‘You’ve come a long way, baby!’ This was a line used for Eve cigarettes, designed to lure women smokers.
With our current knowledge of the hazards of smoking, it is perhaps not right to see the past advertising of cigarettes through rose-tinted glasses. Yet, cigarette advertising of the seventies and eighties was highly successful, with a personification of glamour that left an indelible mark on advertising trends of those decades. Each brand strove to create a distinct persona in a highly competitive market.
Capstan, a brand of Pakistan Tobacco Company (PTC), was perhaps the first to film commercials abroad, beginning in the sixties. With the theme ‘Men demand Capstan the world over, it attracted smokers with images of famous cities where the brand appeared as the preferred one. This was at a time when Pakistani audiences were not so widely exposed to the world beyond their own borders and the campaign continued to enchant smokers with new locales for over a decade or so. Its authoritative tone of voice also contributed to adding credibility to the claim.
Before Wills (also a PTC brand) became the sole sponsor of cricket in Pakistan, it was sold on the promise of companionship – a young couple was shown sharing Wills with the tagline, ‘They go together, like the smooth Wills filter and the fine Wills blend.’
Wills was not the only brand to show women enjoying a smoke. Premier Tobacco’s Red & White is still remembered for their theme of ‘Satisfaction’. Their most memorable commercial broke two taboos associated with women in Pakistan – smoking and flying. The commercial showed a young woman flying a private aircraft and, of course, acquiring ‘satisfaction’ from getting ‘away from the ordinary’. By the late seventies and eighties, women had exited from cigarette advertising and brands went back to macho images.
PTC was the indisputable leader throughout the decades when cigarettes were freely promoted in the media. It dictated both trends in brand identity, packaging graphics and colours and advertising. Their flagship brand, Gold Leaf, was the most expensive local brand, evoking images of exclusivity, good taste and wealth. In the late seventies and early eighties, based on the theme of ‘For the Taste Alone’, Gold Leaf projected men as discerning collectors of art and artefacts. This success inspired Lakson Tobacco’s Morven Gold to adopt Gold Leaf’s red and gold colours in their packaging, positioning the brand at those who aspired to smoke Gold Leaf but could not afford to. To further uplift their image, Morven Gold commercials were filmed in exotic locations. Another of Lakson’s brands, Princeton, entered the market as the longest cigarette with the positioning of ‘The Big One’! Sports began to acquire cigarette sponsorships in a big way in the late seventies and eighties.
The contradiction in seeking support from an obviously unhealthy product was apparently lost on the sports bodies. The biggest winner in this highly competitive game of sponsorship was Wills. Sometime in the early eighties, they managed to get the cricket board to agree to title all matches in which Pakistan was playing as the ‘Wills Cricket Series’. Complemented with awards for ‘Wills Man of the Match’, ‘Wills Man of the Series’ and so on, the brand launched a series of commercials profiling the top players of the time. However, since our players have traditionally been unpredictable, they often performed badly just when a Wills commercial praising their skills was aired, much to the sponsors’ chagrin! Since cricket – the most glamorous of sports – had become the exclusive property of Wills, other brands had to settle for ‘lesser’ sports. Lakson Tobacco’s Royals Filter began to sponsor football, which perhaps gave a boost to the game. Other lower-priced ones had to opt for sports such as wrestling and kabbadi.
In the mid-nineties, manufacturers and their advertising agencies began to be confronted with restrictions on the promotion of cigarettes in the mass media. Initially, cigarette commercials were banned from primetime. The challenge of this hurdle led to Morven Gold’s iconic ‘Rhythm of Unity’ commercial, which refrained from showing the product, but through breathtaking shots of Pakistan’s heritage, managed to place the brand on primetime! The commercial culminated in a formation of the brand’s logo.
Today, with alert regulators, the capacity of tobacco companies to promote their products is severely limited – the companies can only do personal selling to smokers. However, since the leading companies continue to be extremely profitable, it is clear that sales are being made through strategies that may be surreptitious but effective.
Zohra Yusuf is Chief Creative Officer, Spectrum Y&R.
First published in THE DAWN OF ADVERTISING IN PAKISTAN (1947-2017), a Special Report published by DAWN on March 31, 2018.