All that glisters
Some of the most memorable ads in history are for cigarettes. Could there be a more enduring symbol of brooding, self-reliant masculinity than the Marlboro Man? And if you had to roll out one feminist slogan from advertising, wouldn’t it be “You’ve come a long way, baby”?
The thing is, when your product is a foul-smelling form of slow death, your ads need to be good.
Not that they always were. In one incredible crime against taste, a cigarette brand called Tareyton ran an enduring campaign that featured models (sometimes men, often pretty women) sporting black eyes (obviously painted on, but still) and claiming “I’d rather fight than switch”. Meaning, I’d rather take one in the face than change my cigarette brand. Those ads ran in the US for almost 20 years.
Here in New Zealand, tobacco companies were banned from TV and radio advertising from 1963, so they poured their money into sponsorship of sport, cleverly linking their product with fitness, virility, winning... Basically everything cigarettes cancel out.
And of course, for more than 30 years tobacco paid for our country’s glitziest fashion event, the Benson & Hedges Fashion Design Awards, inspiring the young and clever and bringing glamour and Bob Parker into our living rooms. For those fancy enough to attend, the tickets resembled the brand’s gold boxes. And backstage among the beautiful models and crew the complimentary ciggies flowed like honey.
It was Helen Clark (health minister at the time) who spoiled all the fun. The event became the Smokefree Fashion Design Awards which promised to “take the ash out of fashion” but sadly took most of the cash out too. It was all over within two years.
Helen copped flak. “The awards were a glittering occasion... Ms Clark’s attack will have left a sour taste,” editorialised The Dominion. History is on Helen’s side. That money did come from a dark place. But the memories (celebrated on page 10)... They are gold.