Diet pop culture: Lucky Strike.


“Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet” is probably one of the more well-known taglines in advertising history. That doesn’t prevent it from creeping me the fuck out every time I encounter it.

And you’ll never guess who the inspiration was for this little gem —

In the November 19, 1948 issue of Printers’ Ink, Vincent Riggio, President of The American Tobacco Company, relates the alerting story of one of the most famous of all sales-building cigarette campaigns —

“Some years ago, I was riding up town with George W. Hill, and we had gone about five miles through New York City without Mr. Hill having spoken one word. He was thinking deeply about something, and knowing Mr. Hill, I did not interrupt his trend of thought.

“This went on for a while, and we were obliged to stop for a traffic light. The car was standing there for a few minutes, and Mr. Hill grabbed me and said, ‘I’ve got it.’ Then, ‘Look,’ he said, pointing to a stout woman who was standing on the sidewalk waiting to cross the street. This woman had a big piece of candy in her hand and was eating it. A taxicab had pulled up between the sidewalk and our car, the occupant of which was a slender, nice looking woman smoking a cigarette. I noticed the contrast immediately. Mr. Hill said again, ‘I’ve got it…”Reach for a Lucky Instead of a Sweet.”‘

“Many in marketing today believe that campaign created more women smokers than any other single promotional effort.”

-Julian Lewis Watkins, The 100 Greatest Advertisements, 1959

— Some poor innocent bystander of a fat lady, who had the audacity to eat candy in public.

Naturally, the throat-soothing action of deliciously toasted tobacco is far more wholesome and good for the constitution than abandoning oneself to the horrors of corpulence.






32 responses to “Diet pop culture: Lucky Strike.”

  1. Elle Avatar

    I also like the second tag line, “It’s toasted.” ALL cigarette tobacco is toasted!

  2. Gennivre Avatar

    I like how the ad claims that smoking helps maintain “youthful slenderness.” Yep, nothing keeps you looking youthful quite like a pack-a-day habit.

  3. Losing Waist Avatar

    Wow, and we all thought the dieting/restriction craziness only got really bad in the last couple of decades… “Slender” is a great trade for any other health issue- it is okay that I have an oxygen tank… I stayed SLENDER all these years!

  4. littlem Avatar

    *boggles at tagline*

    “it is okay that I have an oxygen tank… I stayed SLENDER all these years!”
    Other than that, I don’t think there are words.

  5. Twistie Avatar

    Well, and it’s not like there’s ever been a fat smoker EVER, amiright?!

    Yeah, back in the days when my mother smoked she was never fat, right? Except that she totally was.

  6. julie Avatar

    We’ve come a long way, baby! Seriously, cigarettes are about the biggest about-face for our culture, doctors actually used to push them! When I was a kid, people smoked everywhere. I watched part of an Elvis movie a few days back, and smoking was a fashion accessory. My grandpa (died of emphysema) used to say there’s no excuse to be both fat and a smoker, though of course he was both. The most common figure that I hear is that nicotine ups your metabolism around 10%, which is significant, but easy to eat past. Most gain weight when they quit, and that is reason why many bail (myself included, embarassingly enough), but smoking is far far far worse for you than extra weight. This is one reason I’m so uptight about my fruits and veggies, because I am a smoker, and I need all the anti-oxidant help I can get. I poison myself on a regular basis. And then there’s my friend whose grandma lived to 97, drinking whiskey and smoking everyday. I’m quitting when this pack runs out (after the weekend), wish me luck, I’ll need it.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Good luck. And lay in a big store of Twizzlers or something, to take the edge off :)

      In this case, I think it’s safe to say — reach for a sweet instead of a cig.

      1. Ulumuri Avatar

        I recommend sour patch kids (non-smoker since ’02). ;)

    2. julia Avatar

      Good luck! You’ll never regret reclaiming your freedom.

      I quit smoking nearly 5 years ago, and I must say that exercise was my new best friend, esp. during the worst of the initial craziness – helped with the mood swings and helped to offset the drop in metabolism, too.

      Sweets are better than smokes, but if you think gaining weight will make you go back to smoking, then you might be better off not replacing the cigs with extra snacks.

      Just eat as you normally would, and the urges to eat instead of smoke will (probably) go away fairly quickly… when folks get all snacky, it’s mostly just a replacement for what they aren’t putting in their mouths anymore or a way to deal with the jittery feelings. Other strategies, like taking a few deep slow breaths, drinking some water, or going for a quick walk around the block, work just as well.

      Hope that helps and isn’t annoyingly busybodyish – I’m afraid I’m like many ex-smokers and can’t resist cheering people on and offering up unasked-for advice!!

      1. julie Avatar

        Thanks for the advice and well-wishes. I didn’t eat instead, I used exercise a whole lot more, have been wearing myself out. I have a secret strategy that works like a charm, way better than food. It’s actually been too hot to eat. Alcohol is out of the question, too, for at least a month. I’ll make it!

  7. z3ll0 Avatar

    Wow. It’s amazing what companies will do for profit.

    I usually forget about these ads until someone pulls them up. Absolutely astounding.

  8. buffpuff Avatar

    I think the most hilarious (and equally misleading) copy-line I’ve ever seen on a vintage ad for cigarettes, (and I totally forget which brand they were), was, “Smoke X cigarettes – it’s the smart thing to do”!

    1. Michelle Avatar

      I lol’d.


  9. living400lbs Avatar

    People do forget how common smoking was, and how benign it was thought to be. I remember reading Madeleine L’Engle’s novel Love Letters, which was set in the 60s, and being surprised – not that the main character didn’t smoke, but because she would explain to people that “It’s no virtue in me. I choke.” Aka, it’s not that she didn’t want to smoke, but she wasn’t able to do it well. *headdesk*

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Wow. That is…that’s INSANE.

      Also: I love your blog.

  10. O.C. Avatar

    In the 1940s an older friend’s mother was prescribed smoking by her doctor, as a weight loss aid. She died of lung cancer.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      We may laugh at the idea now, but it really did come with a terrible cost. That is so sad.

  11. Ellis Manifold Avatar
    Ellis Manifold

    Jeeeez! … I always thought that when cigarette packages were first labled with health warnings in the early sixties that certain ad people of the time, in order to save the accounts and stem the potential paranoia and loss of sales, had reasoned to the American Tobacco Co. “That while all other tobacco products may currently be assumed as ‘poison’, Lucky Strikes were deemed ‘toasted’ in order to put a blind eye to the public’s fears. Now the ‘It’s Toasted’ tagline history from (I thought) the sixties has been upstaged by this ancient ad from the twenties. Golly-gee-damn! that’s a 40 year distortion and the last time I ever believe anything I see on TV.
    Looked upon as enjoyable, good for you, and viewed as WAY COOL, In those early years it was rare to see a person that didn’t have a fag dangling from their mouth. I grew up in that accepted environment, but with the onset of the warning logos it scared the shit out of me so I never smoked, or experimented. Instead I got fat.

    Oh… and yeah, both of my parents were very heavy smokers, eventually they each died of cancer.


    1. Michelle Avatar

      Yeah, I saw that episode of Mad Men too — they’re taking bits of history and incorporating it into their timeline, not actually reflecting reality 100%. The “It’s Toasted” thing is way older than 1960. I saw ads from the 20s and 30s with “It’s Toasted” on them.

      I never smoked, or experimented. Instead I got fat.

      Smart man.

  12. Emgee Avatar

    All I can think is that, for some, living fat is a fate worse than death. And they keep telling us that obesity causes us to die early, yet apparently not early enough, or fast enough, because they also keep blaming the healthcare crisis on the obese as well.

  13. letter Avatar

    It’s creepy. I don’t really believe that’s where the idea came from because the story is too good! But yes, the line is creepy.

  14. JennyRose Avatar

    The sad fact is that some women still use cigarettes for weight control.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      …thus proving that much of our obsession over weight is NOT actually grounded in concern for our health.

      1. Emgee Avatar

        Of course, you’re right, Michelle! Why else would we cut off parts of our bodies in surgery, or take drugs that damage our hearts or our livers? Recently I saw in the newspaper someone asking Dr. Gott about swallowing tapeworm eggs to lose weight–people are literally dying to be thin. And you know what? I quit!

        1. Michelle Avatar

          You know, I saw an old diet ad for “sterilized” tapeworm! Seriously! So, so nasty. I’ll have to post it sometime soon.

  15. Amy Avatar

    I couldn’t get past the use of word “fuck” in the first line. I think expletives should be reserved for describing war experiences, like what you said when your foot blew off, or what George Bush’s policies did to this country, but in this context, its just too much. Good luck on your blog. But, please, lose the “fucking” language.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Sorry, Amy. That’s just…kind of the way I write. And talk. Ain’t likely gonna change.

      I enjoy swearing. I know it’s not for everyone, but it is decidedly for me.

  16. Jenna Avatar

    I came across this very fine example of food marketing/diet culture…it’s a good one.

    1. Michelle Avatar

      Okay, I lol’d.

      That is a good one. Although, I have to say — I really do like sugar. This ad is clearly targeted at me (except for the weight loss angle.)

  17. Kelly Avatar

    Sadly, I kind of think smoking looks cool. I know, I’m gross, I’m wrong, etc. etc.

    This ad here is right up there in awesomeness with the many, many Lysol douche ads (see your nearest Flickr for many wonderful examples).

    I’d love to see the tapeworm ad, Michelle!

  18. Kaitlyn Avatar

    Plenty people in my family smoke. Plenty people on the college campus smoke. I hate it, I can’t stand the smell.

    Anyways, along the lines of this ad was a book I came across in my high school library while working on a research paper. (We were only allowed to use the net and the books the school had – and only supposed to work on it at school. I love that teacher.)

    I picked “criminalize smoking” as my topic because we were not allowed to do “decriminalize marijuana,” so I picked what I thought was its opposite after mulling over other ideas. This was also a very easy paper to do – lots of good sources on my side! And my teacher didn’t smoke – know your audience.

    We were required to have X number of books (for the different kinds of citations), and I found one book on nicotine from the ’70s. Yes nicotine will hurt you, but if you quit, you’ll gain weight! That message was restated over and over in that book.

    (We also had (still have?) a book about Jimmy Carter and the back says, “We look forward to what he’ll do as president!”)