It started in 1968 – Phillip Morris launches the very first cigarette brand marketed specifically to women. The “You’ve come a long way, baby” slogan (created by the famous Leo Burnett Agency) instantly caught on, and the “Women’s Lib” theme perfectly tapped into the female consumer’s mindset. The ads featured an old-fashioned photograph of repressed women smokers behind a colorful, vibrant “New Woman” free of oppression, smoking proudly. Smoking Virginia Slims was freedom, it was liberation!
There is perhaps no better way to witness the changing fashions and zeitgeist of the American woman throughout the 1970s and 1980s than to walk through Virginia Slims advertising. So, let’s take it year by year – and watch the evolution.
Virginia Slims was quick out-of-the-gate to include an African American in their advertising; however, they would be vastly outnumbered by women throughout the decades.
Take note that the advert on the left was the first to add the “baby” to their tag line.
Virginia Slims, thanks in large part to their genius advertising, would become the leading tobacco product for women by a wide margin. Brands such as “Eve” and “Satin” could only dream of gaining the Virginia Slims female market share.
Truth Tobacco Industry Documents has the fascinating first-hand account (complete with pictures) of the development of the Virginia Slims brand by the Leo Burnett Agency. A must-read for anyone interested in vintage advertising.
Technically, Virginia Slims weren’t the first: it was the Silva Thins. The television ads for Silva Thins got a lot of good and bad press. The commercials featured a James Bond type guy who declines to give a woman a puff of his new thin cigarette, and then, nonchalantly pushes her out the door of a car.
It was piss poor advertising, but John T. Landry, Philip Morris marketing chief at the time, took notice. ”There was a germ of an idea there,” Landry recalls. ”I knew thinness was a quality worth talking about. It’s an American obsession. The Silva Thins people were just doing it wrong.”
So, there’s no question that the marketing was brilliant – but was there something sleazy about co-opting the feminist movement to sell cigarettes to woman? Whatever your opinions of the tactic, it worked like a champ.
By 1974, they were really playing up the “men are worthless pieces of sh*t” strategy – here, they’re providing a toolbox, so ladies won’t need to rely on men to fix things.
Take note that Virginia Slims has brought Cheryl Tiegs on board (starting in June 1974) – another stroke of marketing brilliance.
In 1976, Virginia Slims tested the 120 mm length cigarette, but the test marketing bombed, and they shelved the idea. The world wasn’t quite ready for the 120’s, but they’d see their day come in the mid-eighties.
It’s interesting to note that it’s been almost ten years and the basic advertising layout, slogan and even packaging have remained essentially unchanged. Why mess with a good thing?
Introducing Virginia Slims fashions.
In 1978, Virginia Slims Lights were introduced.
Erin Grey (Buck Rogers, Silver Spoons) joins the Virginia Slims team in 1979.
As many of you may recall, the Virginia Slims television jingle was especially catchy:
You’ve come a long way, baby
To get where you’ve got to today
You’ve got your own cigarette now, baby
You’ve come a long, long way
Interestingly, Virginia Slims was the last cigarette commercial to be aired on American television.
According to the New York Times (“Why They Stretched the Slims”, June 8, 1986): The Slims Brand was in need of a face lift. The old Slims 100’s were holding steady market share, but not growing. Sales of Slims Lights, the low-tar version, were tapering off as the low-tar market became saturated.
The answer came the following year.
BAM! Introducing the 120’s. In 1985, the new line of Virginia Slims was rolled out nationally to great success.
Here’s a bit of trivia: When Phillip Morris was researching how to package their new 120’s they found out that women on America’s east and west coast preferred the hard pack, while the women of the middle states preferred the soft.
In 1987, the Ultra-Light 100s were introduced – to less than spectacular results.
In the 1990s, Virginia Slims finally decided to change their slogan. They went with “It’s a woman thing”, but it wasn’t near as successful as “You’ve come a long way, baby”, so they changed it again to “Find Your Voice” in the 2000s (ugh).
Comparing the fashions and the general look of the late 80s to the start of the Virginia Slims ad campaign, there’s such an enormous change, such an incredible evolution of styles and appearance. “You’ve come a long way, baby” never sounded so apt.
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