Series: Oh Say Can You See? V: The American Way
(This is the fifth entry in a series on The American Way. Be sure to start with Entry 1
in order to understand the following material in context.)
“You ask me what we need to win this war.
I answer tobacco, as much as bullets.”
Guess who said that, and when.
It’s a World War 1 quote, from General John J Pershing, leader of the US Expeditionary Force. And he wasn’t exaggerating.
Obviously, the boys in the trenches needed bullets. And food—here is a description of the rations they received:
The reserve ration was first issued during the latter part of World War I to feed troops who were away from a garrison or field kitchen. It originally consisted of 12 ounces of fresh bacon or one pound of canned meat known as the Meat Ration – usually, corned beef. Additionally, two 8-ounce cans of hard bread or hardtack biscuits, a packet of 1.16 ounces of pre-ground coffee, a packet of 2.4 ounces of granulated sugar, and a packet of 0.16 ounces of salt were issued.
But Uncle Sam decided early on that bacon, bread, and coffee wasn’t enough to fortify the troops for battle.
There was also a separate “tobacco ration” of 0.4 ounces of tobacco and 10 cigarette rolling papers, later replaced by brand-name machine-rolled cigarettes.
And thus by the end of the war 14 million cigarettes a day were being distributed to the “doughboys.”
Before the Great War, men in America had been partial to pipes, cigars, and chewing tobacco. Smoking cigarettes was considered in many circles to be a sign of effeminacy. It was a habit affected by “dandies” maybe, but not “real men.” Still, tobacco—and its nicotine kick—was considered valuable in helping to calm nerves, and psychologically lighten hardships. With our men facing trench warfare, gas attacks, tanks, suffering, serious injury, and possible death, Uncle Sam considered the least he could do was provide them with the comfort of tobacco. As it turned out, the easiest and most convenient form in which to distribute it and use it in the trenches was the cigarette. Thus the cigarette quickly lost its reputation as being for sissies.
I didn’t understand until I looked it up recently that the smoke from pipe tobacco and cigars had not traditionally been inhaled into the lungs. The type of tobacco used in cigars and pipes was (and evidently still is) very harsh on delicate tissue, and would immediately lead to coughing and gagging. The idea I guess is to kind of “roll around” the smoke in your mouth and then poof it out. (I found both “cigar smokers’ forums” and “pipe smokers’ forums” on the Internet where guys were discussing the process, and warning newbies not to inhale, but instead just “savor” the “flavors” of the tobacco in the mouth.) Thus nicotine would be absorbed primarily from the lining of the mouth.
But in 1913, just shortly before WW1, the RJ Reynolds tobacco company introduced the Camel cigarette.
The new Camels were made from a blend of different tobaccos, cured in a way which made them mild enough to allow the smoke to be deeply inhaled. This 1915 ad explained how different this “new” kind of cigarette was.
And as you can imagine, with smoking being just about the only “recreation” for the soldiers in the trenches during the War, millions of them came home from that war addicted to cigarette smoking. In fact, many of them came home with a preference for one or another of the brands of cigarettes. You see, the tobacco companies were more than happy to do their “patriotic duty” and provide cigarettes to the troops at or below cost … as long as they were distributed in their branded packages.
The government provided 50 cigarettes per week in the actual ration kits. And canteens across Europe also allowed soldiers to buy as many more cigarettes as they “needed” at or below their wholesale price. Evidently, the government agreed with the tobacco companies to distribute the various brands in the same “proportion” as their place in the market back in the United States.
By the way, it wasn’t just the American soldier who “needed” tobacco. The other Allies made sure their boys’ nicotine needs were taken care of too. And those boys made sure the folks back home knew that they’d be even happier to receive a care package with extra smokes than to get a box of Mom’s homemade cookies—as you can see from this New Zealand postcard of the time.
Yes, as General Pershing said, smokes were recognized as being as vital as bullets to the war effort.
And the American tobacco companies were happy to oblige.
… while the boys went to war to serve our country, the tobacco industry supplied the soldiers with free tobacco so as to do their part to “help” the war efforts. Soldiers came home addicted to nicotine from all the free cigarettes generously supplied by the tobacco companies, and the industry had customers for life.
Which brings us back to the hero of our story, who was introduced in the previous entry in this series, Eddie Bernays.
…. Cigarettes were manly things now, the stuff of warriors. And as their use among men soared, so did the profits of the companies making them.
All of which convinced cigarette makers that the time was ripe to open a second front, this time targeting females. In 1928, just as they were beginning that push, Edward L. Bernays began working for George Washington Hill, head of the American Tobacco Company, which made America’s fastest-growing brand of cigarettes, Lucky Strikes.
“Hill,” Bernays recalled later, “became obsessed by the prospect of winning over the large potential female market for Luckies. ‘If I can crack that market, I’ll get more than my share of it,’ he said to me one day. ‘It will be like opening a new gold mine right in our front yard.’” The war and changing social mores already were helping Hill tap that lode. Many women who’d replaced men in factories or served abroad had taken up the habit, defying the taboo against female smoking, and college coeds were trying to tear down barriers against women smoking in public places. The share of cigarettes consumed by women more than doubled from 1923 to 1929, but it still was just 12 percent, far lower than Hill had hoped. [The Father of Spin, Larry Tye: unless otherwise noted, all further quotes in this entry are from this book.]
But of course, most middle class women of the time did not live lives of adventure and high risk. Offering them a smoke to calm their frazzled nerves wouldn’t be smart psychology. Hill decided that the biggest lure he could use for women would be to promise them that smoking Luckies would help them be attractive. In the “flapper” era of the 1920s, the “slim” figure for women was becoming the standard of beauty. And women were becoming conscious of the role over-eating played in stretching their waistlines. So Hill decided to sell the idea that smoking a cigarette was the most effective way to curb appetite.
He’d already settled on a slogan—” Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet”—
It was a wise choice. Bernays didn’t invent fashions like the pursuit of a svelte figure, but he was becoming the acknowledged master of accentuating such trends and capitalizing on them for his clients, a process he termed “crystallizing public opinion.” And during his eight-year association with the tobacco tycoon he would make clear his willingness to employ whatever antics or deceptions it took to do that crystallizing, including trying to discredit new research linking smoking to deadly diseases.
In earlier ad campaigns for other clients, Bernays had discovered the power of enlisting “experts” to endorse ideas that would be beneficial in promoting a product. So his first tactic to help promote Lucky Strikes was to start a buzz among experts who could “endorse” the idea that “slim is in.” His photographer friend Nickolaus Muray was persuaded to write to other photographers and artists and “solicit their opinions” on the new, more slender woman as the modern feminine ideal:
“I have come to the conclusion,” Muray wrote, “that the slender woman who, combining suppleness and grace with slenderness, who instead of overeating sweets and desserts, lights a cigarette, as the advertisements say, has created a new standard of female loveliness.… I am interested in knowing if my own judgment concurs with that of others, and should be most happy to have your opinion on this subject.” Who could argue that thin wasn’t better than fat? Few did, and the results were forwarded to newspapers, with similar “surveys” readied for actors, athletes, “beautiful girls,” society women, and male dancers.
Eddie hit the topic from many angles. He concocted news releases to send to fashion editors of magazines and newspapers that featured slender Parisian models in all the latest high fashion dresses. He circulated to news editors a testimonial from…
… the former chief of the British Association of Medical Officers of Health warning that sweets caused tooth decay and advising that “the correct way to finish a meal is with fruit, coffee and a cigarette. The fruit,” Dr. George F. Buchan continued, “hardens the gums and cleans the teeth; the coffee stimulates the flow of saliva in the mouth and acts as a mouth wash; while finally the cigarette disinfects the mouth and soothes the nerves.”
And then there was the testimonial from Moses Teichman. You don’t remember Moses? Here he is, in a photo from about that time, doing the Charleston with a slim young woman.
Born to Jewish parents in 1895 in Austria-Hungary, Moses and family emigrated to the US in 1897. Anti-German pressure at the beginning of WW1 prompted him to change his name because the anti-German sentiments abroad in the land made things difficult for people with German-sounding names like Teichman. So instead of Moses Teichman, he chose to live the rest of his life as…
If you are old enough, you may remember Murray for his “Arthur Murray Party” TV show in the ‘50s. If you are older than that, you may remember him for the mail-order dance lessons he sent out that used footprint diagrams to teach folks to do the fox trot or waltz.
But he was most famous for a chain of dance studios he started in the 1920s, and that continue to this day. The business…
…launched in 1925, involved selling branded dance lessons through franchising. He trained dance instructors for the Statler Hotel chain, who then went to various hotels and gave lessons; Murray kept some of the profits from each franchise. [Wiki]
By the 1930s, he expanded even more, to free-standing, franchised dance studios. But in 1928, when Eddie approached him, he was already a nationally-known dance instructor, in a time when new “dance crazes” like the Charleston and Jitterbug were all the rage, and being able to look good on the dance floor was viewed by young women as a quick road to popularity.
Bernays even persuaded dancing-school entrepreneur Arthur Murray to sign a letter testifying that “on the dance floor, results of over-indulgence are quickly revealed— causing embarrassment not only to one’s dancing partner but also to other dancers by encroaching on more than a fair share of space on a crowded or, as is often the case, on a dance floor of limited proportions. Dancers today, when tempted to overindulge at the punch bowl or the buffet, reach for a cigarette instead.”
Eddie also embarked on less direct approaches, aimed at “changing the culture” even more than changing the habits of one potential Lucky Strike buyer at a time:
Hotels were urged to add cigarettes to their dessert lists, while the Bernays office widely distributed a series of menus, prepared by an editor of House and Garden, designed to “save you from the dangers of overeating.” For lunch and dinner they suggested a sensible mix of vegetables, meats, and carbohydrates, followed by the advice to “reach for a cigarette instead of dessert.
And he proposed that homemakers hire kitchen cabinetmakers to provide special spaces to hold cigarettes the same as they did for flour and sugar, urged container makers to provide labeled tins for smokes just as they did for tea and coffee, and encouraged home economics writers to “stress the importance of cigarettes in home-making.… Just as the young and inexperienced housewife is cautioned not to let her supplies of sugar or salt or tea or coffee run low, so she should be advised that the same holds true of cigarettes.”
The “reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet” ads had been around for about a month when a new wave of ads came out…
… this time stressing moderation. The “moderation” he had in mind, of course, meant consuming fewer sweets and more cigarettes.
The slogan for this wave of the sales campaign was “When tempted to over-indulge, Reach for a Lucky instead.”
And as usual, Eddie outdid himself brainstorming on ways to expand the plan.
Bernays responded with an intricate proposal for a Moderation League, one that, ironically, he wanted to model on the “the Anti-Tuberculosis Association, Anti-Cancer Associations, Cardiac Associations etc.” Hill balked at the long-range program, but loved Bernays’s proposal to sign up the glamorous Ziegfeld Girls. Six of the dancers formed the Ziegfeld Contour, Curve and Charm Club, signing a pledge to “renounce the false pleasure of the table— fattening foods, drinks, and cloying sweets. But I make no sacrifices: I shall smoke cigarettes.”
And it wasn’t all just “glamour girls” who were enlisted in the sales blitz. One of the most popular female celebrities of the time was aviatrix Amelia Earhart. Charles Lindbergh had recently completed his famous solo flight across the Atlantic in 1927 when Earhart was invited to take part in a June 1928 flight that also became a “first”…the first woman to cross the Atlantic in an airplane. No, she wasn’t the pilot, just along for the ride on the plane Friendship. (The flight was almost totally on “instruments,” and she hadn’t yet been trained for that type of flying.) But it was known that she was an accomplished pilot, and she went on to fame in her own right.
Conveniently for Lucky Eddie and Lucky Strikes, Amelia had a slim, trim figure. Here she is in flight gear in 1928, and more demure in formal attire in 1932.
Yes, Amelia gave testimony that Lucky Strikes were the cigarette of choice on the famous flight, and that she, the pilot, and co-pilot basically chain-smoked them for most of the 20 hour trip. As she was quoted saying in another Lucky ad of the time, “I think nothing helped so much to lessen the strain for all of us.”
So…how successful were all these hidden and not-so-hidden methods of persuasion in actually selling the product?
Hill exulted in a December 1928 letter to Bernays, American Tobacco’s revenues rose by $ 32 million that year, and Luckies “show a greater increase than all other Cigarettes combined.”
By the way, how did the author of the Father of Spin book ferret out so many details and quotes about this and many other Bernays campaigns of persuasion? Because Eddie Bernays was both egotistical and obsessive-compulsive enough to keep originals or copies of practically every slip of paper that he ever wrote or received. And with a career that spanned over 80 years, that’s a LOT of paper. Eddie was literally sure that his would be an undying legacy, and he wanted to make sure future biographers “got it right.” So before his death, he boxed up all of that voluminous material and arranged for it to be left to the Library of Congress—more than 800 boxes.
He also wrote his own 849-page autobiography, Biography of an Idea: Memoirs of Public Relations Counsel Edward L. Bernays.
But even that wasn’t enough:
Still, he wasn’t content. Posterity would have all his papers and his personal perspective on his life story. But he felt it was important that biographers and historians also have a road map to everything he’d written and everything that had been written about him over his long career, one that included capsule versions of the writings, since he’d learned long before that busy authors had limited attention spans. So, in a truly unusual move, he hired a doctoral student to compile a 774-page annotated bibliography on him and his wife Doris. This work— Public Relations, the Edward L. Bernayses and the American Scene: A Bibliography— included 24 pages and 185 entries just on things the New York Times had said about him. There were hundreds of pages more of long excerpts from each book, periodical, and film that mentioned him, or that he contributed to. And there were references to nearly every speech he delivered and letter to the editor he wrote.
… Roscoe Ellard, a Columbia Journalism School professor who reviewed an earlier, ninety-two-page version of the bibliography for Editor and Publisher, said it usefully sketched the history of PR in America. Still, he couldn’t help observing how odd it was for such a work to be commissioned, noting wryly that it had happened only twice before that he knew of— with Napoleon and Abraham Lincoln. PR veteran Bill Riis also thought it odd, although not for Eddie, as he wrote, “No one but Bernays would think of selling his own personal clipping book. The trick is, it won’t sell.” Riss was right: Eddie was stuck with twenty-five cases of copies, which he kept in his basement. But the bibliography found its way to scores of libraries and other research centers and is available to anyone interested in reading or writing about him.
Yes, Lucky Eddie was close to one of a kind. Which is why we know so much about the Lucky Strike campaign.
Seldom if ever had a publicity campaign been carried out on so many fronts, and seldom if ever again will those responsible save, and make public, the details of their orchestrations the way Bernays did when he left to the Library of Congress twenty-four boxes of records pertaining to the American Tobacco Company.
That leaves close to 800 boxes we can dip into to find out more about Eddie’s brand of Hidden Persuasion.
The upcoming blog entries that will explore just a few more examples, making it very clear that using hidden methods of persuasion to get the public to buy your product, your cause, your candidate…or your war…didn’t start with the Mad Men of the 1950s. Up next:
PS… but first, just for fun, have a look at a 1957 episode
of the Arthur Murray Party show.
You don’t get to see Arthur, but it’s introduced by his wife Kathryn,
and features a VERY unexpected guest.