While the character Don Draper in the television show Mad Men looked for a way to first save his cigarette advertising accounts, and then to distance himself from them, a new book—“Tobacco Goes to College”—shows the power of advertising impacted would-be-smokers long before the Mad Men era.
Elizabeth Crisp Crawford, associate professor in the Department of Communication at North Dakota State University, Fargo, studied how tobacco advertising from 1920 to 1980 targeted college students.
“The tobacco industry had a strong presence on campus and an influence on college media,” said Crawford. “Tobacco’s influence on college media included campus newspapers, radio, and sporting events. This influence affected students on campus the most—due to a high level of advertising exposure. However, the viewing audiences for college sports also were exposed to cigarette promotion facilitated by the NCAA.”
In her research for “Tobacco Goes to College: Cigarette Advertising in Student Media, 1920-1980,” Crawford found the advertising plans and creative tactics to be extremely strategic over the six decades studied. Social pressure and social appeals hit the mark with potential college consumers.
“The advertising campaigns were well organized and sophisticated,” said Crawford. “In this way, tobacco was ahead of its time. The ads are really an important piece of advertising history for these reasons.”
The successful advertising tactics, said Crawford, are still being used today for a variety of products.
“I see the industry using many of the same tactics it used 50 years ago with cigarettes—especially the filtered brands. When we discuss the promotion of e-cigarettes, I think that we need to look at the history of tobacco advertising,” said Crawford.
Key insights into the target market make these ads successful.
“The tobacco industry has an excellent understanding of the psychology of human need,” said Crawford. “People use substances to cope with their lives. Sometimes life can be stressful and people lack the needed human support. Tobacco has always positioned itself as a way to fill a social or emotional void.”
Crawford’s book contains an in-depth analysis of vintage cigarette ads.
“Jane Wyman – famous Barnard Alumna says: ‘Chesterfields always give me a lift. They’re wonderfully mild and taste so good. They’re my favorite cigarette,’” according to an ad which ran in NDSU’s student newspaper, The Spectrum, on April 7, 1950.
Similar ads ran in student newspapers across the country including Smith College, University of Portland, Elon University, and in football programs at colleges, including the University of Tennessee at Knoxville (Crawford’s alma mater), at Chattanooga, and Illinois vs. Stanford.
“Tobacco advertisers knew college students’ needs and positioned their product in a way that could help fulfill these needs,” said Crawford.
In 1963, the Tobacco Institute pulled tobacco advertising from college publications. Crawford points out that nearly 2,000 publications then looked for ways to recover what amounted to as much as 50 percent of lost revenue from the ads.
Crawford’s interest in this particular area of research also has a personal link. “Of my four grandparents, the two that attended college smoked. I found this connection to be interesting,” she said.
“Tobacco Goes to College” was named an Outstanding Academic Title by Choice Magazine in 2014. The list comprises about 10 percent of more than 7,000 titles reviewed by Choice each year. According to Choice reviewer N.E. Furlow, “In short, the book offers a detailed inside look at the tobacco industry's calculating strategy to entice a young population to use its products.” The book is published by McFarland & Company, Inc.
In reviewing the book in American Journalism, Stephen Siff wrote: “It is on the final point, about the quality and inventiveness of cigarette advertising, that the book is most effective and, ultimately, makes its greatest contribution.”
In Journalism History, reviewer Kari Hollerbach wrote: “By examining the broader social and legal trends that buffeted the tobacco industry, the targeted effort to recruit and retain college-age smokers, and the actual advertisements and their thematic narratives, she offers a very compelling explanation as to how and why several generations of American youth were persuaded to smoke, smoke, smoke that cigarette.”
Figures show the continued compelling force of advertising. According to a CDC report, tobacco companies spent $9.6 billion marketing cigarettes and smokeless tobacco in the United States alone in 2012. That’s equivalent to more than $1 million every hour, based on $26 million daily. A Federal Trade Commission report shows $9.2 billion spent on cigarette advertising and promotion in 2012. The report notes the expenses include magazine ads, distribution of samples and coupons, retail ads, discounts, retailer payments, rebates and direct-mail advertising.
A Gallup-Healthways Well-Being Index showed the national smoking rate at 19.7 percent in 2013, with North Dakota’s smoking rate dropping from 24.1 percent in 2008 to 18.5 percent in 2013. Kaiser Family Foundation data show the national smoking rate at 18.1 percent in 2013 and North Dakota at 21.2 percent.
Crawford’s research has been published in Journalism and Mass Communication Educator, Social Marketing Quarterly, and the Journal of Health and Mass Communication. Crawford joined NDSU in 2009. She received a doctorate degree in communication and information from the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, and a master’s degree in advertising and public relations from Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin.
NDSU, Fargo, North Dakota, USA, is notably listed among the top 108 U.S. public and private universities in the Carnegie Commission on Higher Education’s category of “Research Universities/Very High Research Activity.” NDSU is listed in the top 100 research universities in the U.S. for R&D in agricultural sciences, chemistry, computer science, physical sciences, psychology, and social sciences, based on research expenditures reported to the National Science Foundation. As a student-focused, land grant, research institution, NDSU serves the state’s citizens. www.ndsu.edu/research