Subject matter aside, Newport cigarette ads just plain stink.
April 19, 2010
I was thumbing through the latest issue of Entertainment Weekly (I like to tell myself it’s a trade book and not some gossipy rag), when I came across an ad for Newport cigarettes. You know the campaign. It has run for decades. In it young actors engage in frenetic, dopey situations, often a sport or an otherwise physical activity. This particular execution featured a colorfully dressed woman flailing away on a guitar while her frizzed out haircut of a boyfriend played lead singer. Folks, there is no chance in hell either character knows the first thing about making music. My young daughters look more real playing Guitar Hero in the basement.
But the couple is having the time of their lives. The bodacious tagline calls this inane reverie “Newport Pleasure!” If you recall, the tagline used to be “Alive with Pleasure!” I imagine this clashed with the other predominant copy: “Smoking cigarettes may cause death.” My guess is that some time ago the client, Lorillard yielded to anti-smoking sentiment and the many laws restricting tobacco advertising. Sort of.
How they got away with this copy is beyond me. Yet, as a marketer, my primary question is not really how but why? Not to sound juvenile, but this campaign has to be the stupidest advertising in the world. Sure, it is in bad taste. But it was terrible when smoking was fashionable.
Look, I know it’s hard to forget smoking is deadly. Yet, pretending that’s possible, I still cannot imagine these posters do anything to sell cigarettes. I get the Marlboro Man. I appreciated the allure of Virginia Slims’, “You’ve come a long way baby.” Despite loathing it, I even understood the punkish allure of Joe Camel. But this? Does anyone, let alone the young target, relate to these vapid creatures feigning ecstasy? The wardrobe. The props. That goofy seventies typeface. Dig up an old VHS cassette. Say Car Wash. Or one of Jane Fonda’s earliest workout tapes. Those are cooler. Way cooler. Whether or not the fakeness is intended (I believe it is), matters little. It fails as camp, too. These ads are not –I repeat not- so bad they’re good.
So what gives? Why is Lorillard spending their ill-gotten money on advertising that is so damn dumb it boggles the mind?
With ad campaigns such as this I often imagine the agency art director (no need for a copywriter) as he or she sets up yet another million dollar shoot for the client. Middle-aged, making low six figures, probably ornery from years of doing hack work, the devil’s work, he or she spends the days matching second rate models to mind numbing scenarios: ping pong, apple picking, karaoke, etc… He or she has probably been using the same photographer for years. They are friends, partners in crime. They choose splendid locations, talking about the fine hotels they might stay in. Maybe they’ll bring the family, mixing business with pleasure. Newport pleasure.
At the same time, I’m keenly aware of our reality as marketers. We work for whomever on whatever. I’m grateful our current roster of clients does not make products that used legally and properly will kill you. But I know there but for the grace of the Gods of advertising go I.