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This story could be called "The Quest for a Personality" -- or "15 Guys in Search of a Feminine Identity" -- or "How Miss Virginia Slims Got to Be the Kind of Girl She Is."
June 13, 2012 5:32 PM   Subscribe

From UCSF's Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, "How an Agency Builds a Brand--The Virginia Slims Story."

In an interview with Alan Sepinwall wrapping up the latest season of Mad Men, Matthew Weiner said, "We were always interested in this early Virginia Slims thing. We loved the fact that it was a small, undesirable product for everybody, and it of course became a pretty big success. But that's such a famous campaign written by such a distinctive person that I would never do that." But what's the real story behind Virginia Slims? As Hal Weinstein of Leo Burnett asserts:
Cigarettes have gender, as everyone knows. It was a study by Pierre Martineau, I am told, that first pointed out that cigarettes are either masculine or feminine but never successfully neuter.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi (32 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite

 
SPOILERS!
posted by mikelieman at 5:41 PM on June 13, 2012


But Peggy prefers reefer!
posted by Burhanistan at 5:47 PM on June 13, 2012 [6 favorites]


Clicked just to see if Peggy had been mentioned yet, smiled, done.
posted by trackofalljades at 5:51 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Wow, that was a very interesting article. Having grown up during the waning days of cigarette advertising and display, a lot of these tropes and "common knowledge" about cigarette ads were all new to me.

Kind of in awe at the equating the struggle and triumph of equal rights with the privilege of having a toxic drug marketed to you for the first time. It was a conversation the culture was ready for, but only in the context of selling drugs. Capitalism, folks.
posted by bleep at 5:52 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


It depends if the background matches. Virgina with urban, or Marlboro cowbowby.
posted by Mblue at 5:53 PM on June 13, 2012


I just read the Weiner article too, and that is ALSO a terribly fascinating piece. Wow, so interesting. For one thing he talks about using science-fiction on the show as a way for the characters to express their own stories but couched; that is how the culture used sci-fi in the 60s, as a way to talk and think about their own culture. So Mad Men uses it that way. Which is great because Mad Men is itself science fiction except set in the past. We're still telling stories about our own culture couched in an exotic, Other place.
posted by bleep at 6:16 PM on June 13, 2012 [3 favorites]


Related: Age of Persuasion, Season five: How invented created the housewife (part one)
posted by Decimask at 6:16 PM on June 13, 2012


Also, Weiner may be a great writer but his ideas are kind of all over the place here! I get them but it highlights how important form and editing are.
posted by bleep at 6:17 PM on June 13, 2012


How ADVERTISING created...

And that's part two.

Blah.
posted by Decimask at 6:17 PM on June 13, 2012


I was babysitting and after the kids had gone to sleep, (I was out of my own smokes), I stole a Virgina Slim from a carton in a kitchen drawer. It was kinda weak tasting, but I didn't grow boobs or anything.
posted by jonmc at 6:32 PM on June 13, 2012


You've come a long way, jonmc.
posted by Dr. Zira at 6:34 PM on June 13, 2012 [12 favorites]


I saw this (and you, PhoBWanKenobi!) on the Mad Men subreddit. I got lost in the story of Virginia Slims until I read the Matt Weiner/Sepinwall interview. It's a little sad that Peggy almost certainly won't come up with "You've come a long way, baby!" -- but maybe she'll be on the earlier campaign, the one for Virginia Lights: "Why smoke heavy when you can smoke light?"
posted by brina at 6:40 PM on June 13, 2012


Oddly enough, smoking Virginia Slims helped many women grow breasts...


riddled with tumors.
posted by Renoroc at 6:44 PM on June 13, 2012


^ that is how the culture used sci-fi in the 60s, always uses sci-fi, as a way to talk and think about their own culture.
posted by tzikeh at 6:52 PM on June 13, 2012


That's true, I called out the 60's because Weiner was talking about that sci-fi moment in the 60s in particular, right after the cold war and going to the moon and that sort of thing, plus the show takes place in the 60s.
posted by bleep at 6:59 PM on June 13, 2012


Listening to Audio Noir, re-broadcasts of radio shows from the 1950s, there is occasionally a Dragnet episode where Joe Friday is busting reefer smokers and then Jack Webb comes on and tells you why you should try Fatimas, smoke Fatimas. I find myself thinking, respectively, "dang, it's just pot" and "way to push cancer.'
posted by benito.strauss at 7:07 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


the one for Virginia Lights: "Why smoke heavy when you can smoke light?"

Telling my husband about the campaign development, I somehow rewrote this in my head as "Why be heavy when you can be light?" which is SO much better. Ah well.
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 7:21 PM on June 13, 2012


Kind of in awe at the equating the struggle and triumph of equal rights with the privilege of having a toxic drug marketed to you for the first time. It was a conversation the culture was ready for, but only in the context of selling drugs. Capitalism, folks.

You can see something similar going on with pot as growers and vendors experiment with commercialization.
posted by anigbrowl at 7:27 PM on June 13, 2012


But Peggy prefers reefer!

So, there's this show about advertising in the 1960s called Mad Men

My mom was in advertising in the 1960s.

The young smart copywriter done good is named Peggy Olson.

My last name is Olson.

I only have one gripe. Mom *hates* yellow.
posted by eriko at 7:31 PM on June 13, 2012 [2 favorites]


Come, and trip it as ye go,
On the light fantastick toe.
And in thy right hand lead with thee,
The Mountain Nymph, slim Virginia.
posted by shoesfullofdust at 7:44 PM on June 13, 2012


My junior high years were full of my friends' fathers' old Playboys from the seventies.

It seemed like every issue had ads for Virginia Slims. In terms of target marketing, it's a head scratcher.

I think maybe it was a deliberate move. Message sent: "These cigarettes are for girls." Message received: "Those are not the cigarettes for me, for I am a man, and therefore my cigarettes must be manlier than those! I need a cigarette sized for a king, with no filter and lots of tar, lest I be deemed effeminate!"
posted by Sys Rq at 7:45 PM on June 13, 2012


new tagline: never successfully neuter
posted by shoesfullofdust at 7:49 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


I remember another skinny cig, brown in color, that came in a red box. This particular brand was favored by my revered and now passed elder of color, Alonzo, who taught me many things, among them the proper way to use a paper bag in the context of sitting around a public park all day.

I think the smoke may actually just have been a remarketed Virginia Slim. You know, there was a whole social-identity thing embedded in cigs, and the minor brands like Kool or Chesterfield were where that was most clearly on display.
posted by mwhybark at 8:28 PM on June 13, 2012


mwhybark, you're thinking of More.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:33 PM on June 13, 2012


I knew a guy who would smoke two Capris at one time.
posted by Burhanistan at 8:34 PM on June 13, 2012


BOP, so I am, and why am I totally unsurprised you were able to ID that for me?

'Zo's bench partner was a crusty white biker named Freddy who claimed to have roadied for the Sex Pistols, an idea I rejected out of hand for years until I read an anecdote he'd told me, in which he was forced to give his motorcycle boots to Sid Vicious, in a book by Jon Savage. Freddy smoked unfiltered Chesterfields and has also passed on.

Sorry for the derail. I too remember the Virginia Slims ads in men's mags of the 1970s.
posted by mwhybark at 8:39 PM on June 13, 2012


My ex-wife used to smoke Capris. They were like inhaling in a warm room. I like regular Virginia Slims, though. They taste good. And they make me feel pretty.
posted by BitterOldPunk at 8:46 PM on June 13, 2012


Virginia Slims commercial from this ad campaign, featuring the cringe-worthy jingle, "You've Come A Long Way, Baby."
posted by nonmerci at 9:05 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


And here's another! The dubbing is a bit off, but it makes a nice contrast with the last.

I found the piece really fascinating, particularly some of the embarrassingly cheesy copy (which I'm sure didn't sound so silly back then, but sure does now), and how quickly and successfully they milked the women's rights angle for all it was worth. Pretty brilliant, and terribly so.
posted by nonmerci at 9:11 PM on June 13, 2012 [1 favorite]


Whoa, from the interview:

And I think that being inundated with nihilism, random violence, the rise of subversion in the marketplace — which Ginsberg represents — multi-culturalism, this is not a good or bad judgment.

What a weird thing to say about the best new character on the show.
posted by speicus at 7:54 AM on June 14, 2012


What a weird thing to say about the best new character on the show.

I think the point is that the show is meant in some ways to dispassionately consider that new opportunities for some (Ginsberg, et al.) are in a way threatening to others (like Roger and Don) and while we have our modern take on the blessings of opening up the culture, people then did have honest differences in how they reacted. (Plus, come on: Ginsberg is interesting as a character but would no doubt be pretty annoying to have as a coworker.)
posted by psoas at 9:01 AM on June 14, 2012


"Do you wanna put a fat cigarette between those pretty, pretty lips?"

That's not an advertisment, that's a prelude to prison rape!
posted by PeterMcDermott at 5:37 AM on June 15, 2012


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