Creative Critique: Smoking Lung

Diversity and hypocrisy in full voice
Looking at cigarette ads reminds me of a game I used to play with my brother when we were little and none of his friends were around. It was called wrestling, but the only way I would play, given his superior strength, was that he would agree at the outset not to use his arms.
We would start, and then I would immediately cry “no fair,” so he offered not to use his legs. The fouls and “no fairs” escalated, so he’d offer to shut his eyes. And thus, with his hands and legs tied behind his back, his eyes closed, he would blindly butt me with his head until he won. He’d always win, using just the sightless stump.
This is Philip Morris today: responding to lawsuits, paying penalties, running aggressive anti-smoking ads aimed at teens, banned from billboards and product placement in movies, respecting limits on sports sponsorships and merchandising, etc. In effect, butting blindly with its head–but still winning.
Take this series of colorful inserts and ad spreads for Virginia Slims that have been enlivening women’s and beauty magazines. It’s dazzling.
On the surface, there’s no better representation of contemporary womanhood, in all its stripes, colors and types. Banish that smirking, patronizing, early ’70s breakthrough for tobacco-feminism. Remember the “You’ve come a long way, baby” stuff? Instead, here’s an update, all the millennial empowerment and healing you need.
This print campaign out-PCs the PCers when it comes to diversity: visually, it’s Benetton Nation meets Barbara Walters’ The View. There’s the black one, the Asian one, the blonde one, the Latina. Each woman is different, interesting, beautiful.
Starting this month, the inserts became two-page spreads, each featuring one woman. The most vibrant goes Revlon or Avon one better. It shows a striking African woman wearing a beautiful headdress and beads, carrying several bolts of colorful African fabric on her head. “Kila mtu ana uzuri wake,” the Swahili body type says. Underneath, we get the translation: “No single institution owns the copyright for beauty.” Right on, sister.
And underneath the Virginia Slims logo is the new tagline, in a typeface that looks hand-scratched, with each “o” underlined. (A subtly brilliant way of showing this is the cigarette for 2000?) The line: “Find your voice.”
Other ads feature different types of models and different poetic lines: an aphorism for every angle of female being, from the badass “I look temptation in the eye, and then I make
my own decisions” to the Deepak Chopraish “I made a promise to bring Romance back into my life. To kiss negativity goodbye. And love the dawning of each new day!”
The ads are models of balance and art direction–yin and yang, visual and text offsetting each other. In tune with the “Find your voice,” the typeface changes, from bold to expressive, dancing to shy, as if to illustrate all the different accents, rhythms and pitches of speech.
Despite the fact that it’s a legal product, all cigarette advertising is necessarily fraught with layers of irony and hypocrisy. But did no one at Leo Burnett see the irony of finding “your voice,” when smoking so obviously leads to cancers of the throat and larynx and lungs?
We’re back to the wrestling match. Finding your (deep, husky, sexy) voice through cigarettes. Getting enticed by the warning labels. And, saddest irony of all, we now owe big tobacco a huge, if inadvertent, debt: In paying the settlement to the individual states, Philip Morris is paying for schools, roads, hospitals.
I’d say we’re firmly outmuscled. K
Philip Morris
Virginia Slims
“Find Your Own Voice”
Agency: Leo Burnett Chicago