Subject matter aside, Newport cigarette ads just plain stink.

April 19, 2010

Who are these people?

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.


22 Responses to “Subject matter aside, Newport cigarette ads just plain stink.”

  1. Annette said

    It makes me think of bad Normal Rockwell, somewhat updated and with cigarretes. With cigarrette advertising so restricted, I wonder how much impact it really has on sales. I’ve noticed that people who smoke are very loyal to their brand — I think they get addicted to whichever the brand was for their first cigarrette. So glad I never started.

  2. Trey said

    I worked with an account supe once who had wroked on Newport. She was very proud of the campaign. Said it worked in market and the agency considered it a key case study. Rolled her amber eyes at any Precious Creative question about it.

  3. Silly campaign, to be sure.

    I’ve never worked on cigarettes (as you say, no need for a writer) but at this point the finger-waggling at ad peeps who work on cigarettes, alcohol, and fast food is a little over the top.

    By now, one cannot even roll out of bed without being instantly bombarded with info as to why those things are unhealthy. Yet some still choose to do it.

    If we want to live in a free society we have to let people make their own choices, and live with the consequences. Unfortunately, my perspective on this is increasingly in the minority.

    With that said, I think it’s great to make smart campaigns promoting healthy eating, anti-smoking, etc. Persuasion good, politically correct restriction bad.

    • SRP said

      I’m hardly the politically correct guy and I wanted to be clear this piece was not yet another attack on “Big Tobacco.” I’ve just always been dumbfounded by this idiotic campaign!
      The Suit you referenced had no other recourse but to defend this work; after all, she was working on it!

  4. William Shandling said

    I guess I always just assumed they thought they had really killer ads, given that they haven’t updated their branding for as long as I’ve been alive. That they’d somehow outsmarted all those egg-head agency whizzes who over-think themselves with complicated brand strategies and whatnot, when clearly showing clean cut kids spiking volleyballs is working well enough.

  5. Jeff Louis said

    Philip Morris USA is inserting a small leaflet inside their cigarette packs that now proclaim that “Your Pack is Changing. But Your Cigarette Stays The Same.” It seems that the Federal Law regarding all brands must remove descriptors like “Ultra-Light, Light, and Mild” from all cigarette packaging and advertisements.

    I feel sorry for the poor girls at Wal-Greens that often leave me standing in line due to not being able to identify a shopper’s brand of smoke, let alone the flavor. Once the descriptors are removed from the brand, all of the packs will look the same. It will be anarchy, I tell you, Anarchy!

  6. Robert Leung said

    I agree cigarettes and liquor remain in the dark ages and some of the worst advertising ever. I guess in some ways it’s good that the advertising is so bad. Cigarette companies still make a killing (no pun intended) in other countries that have no restrictions on advertising.

    Just as a challenge what would really good, creative cigarette advertising look like? Is it possible? Is it Marlboro or can we do better? To me Marlboro is more about consistency than anything else.

    Come on you copywriters what would the great creative cigarette line be?

    I worked on some cigarette advertising early in my career. An old brand even then called Viceroy. They wanted to update the image.

    It’s amazing the amount of thought, research and money that goes into those ads. From the model’s appearance and his ability to relate to the target, to the angle and direction of the cigarette. Literally, not too far up or down.

    The concept for Viceroy was this young man, a successful businessman, (i.e. he drove a Shelby Cobra) a cigarette exec perhaps, who was spending his leisure time driving the back roads of our great nation meeting elderly craftsmen, bridging the generation gap, learning about a quality of life, and work from a different era. From wine makers to boat builders. And at the same time maybe teaching these old coots what it means to enjoy life now. Drive a super, expensive car and smoke Viceroy!

    And the line, ahh yes, the line: “Pleasure is where you find it.” Who says cigarette ads don’t need copywriters?

    Like Stefan says I was young and foolish so I luxuriated in the largesse of our client. We travelled across the country for months: Newport, Napa, Death Valley, (if you can believe this a “prospector” was one of the old craftsmen) on budgets that rivaled tv commercial shoots. And we stayed in the finest hotels and spas, ate and drank the finest foods and wines and had only one, very accommodating client to deal with.

    We once went out shooting for a month came back and the client decided that the male model didn’t look “relatable” enough and had us go back out again and reshoot everything exactly the same way with a different model!

    I remember visiting Brown And Williamson’s offices in Louisville. The Fortress of Solitude. There were trays and boxes of cigarettes everywhere. And if you didn’t smoke the looks would kill you before the second hand smoke did. You were one of the enemy.

    I like to say I wouldn’t do that kind of work now. It certainly sounds good.

    As for Stefan’s comment about us being whores, or marketers if you prefer, who “work for whomever on whatever” that is part of our business. How often have we compromised our integrity just a little bit each day? How many of us, if we were out of work, and someone offered us six figures to work on smokes would turn it down?

    • SRP said

      Thanks for the insight (and backup).
      “Whores” a harsh word and I’m not sure I agree with it. Maybe mercenaries? But you certainly describe the good, bad and ugly…

  7. I think Merit was one tobacco marketer always in need of writers. I recall that while the brand didn’t pioneer the idea of long-copy ads, it used them in a very interesting, competitive way as if to suggest “there’s something important worth reading here that’s different from the pictures in other cigarette ads you normally see of fun, young people doing fun, young things.” This approach also may have been used to confirm the appeal and positioning to its more “thoughtful” target.

    On another tangent, much of the healthcare debate which still rages comes from a loud faction in our country who hate the idea of paying for others who can’t pay–that this is another welfare bill we’re forcing on “real” Americans who are law-abiding and tax-paying citizens. I am most assuredly not one within this school of thought, but would be curious to know how many of these protesters smoke. Where they’ve made the choice to be a smoker, I definitely don’t want to pay for the hundreds of billions it costs every year to treat the effects of their folly.

  8. It’s actually kind of sad that tobacco ads never have writers, because it seems like premium brands especially would offer an excellent opportunity for articulate and well-researched copy.

    As an example, I’m thinking of the old-school long copy ads for Bombay Sapphire Gin or that long copy campaign Fallon did back in the day for whiskey.

  9. the familiar is comforting. that’s why they don’t change the style. it’s the same premise so much tv works off of. do we really need another bad cop show? another bad sitcom? it’s a sad fact that what most people are looking for in our world is a certain level of comfort.

  10. Truth said

    Let us talk Racism. Newport consumers are 80% African-American. Their ads are 100% white. Why do they ignore (despise?) their target market? There’s a story here.

  11. Jah said

    No Newport ad is half as insulting and sad as the Chase Bank ad on the ski lift.

    • SRP said

      You’re kidding right?
      While the ad you reference might be a tad cloying it is not, in my opinion, in the same league as Newport. Yet, I’m curious as to why you feel that way. Is it the casting? The script? Frankly, the Chase commercial is well produced and likely quite effective. Disagree?

      • Jah said

        To me, the Chase ad is worse because it treats consumers with such disrespect. Black and white with the blue card, so the art director could be sure the card pops…the casting isn’t cloying, it’s disgraceful. The ski lift setting in the Great Recession is offensive. The copy is lazy. It’s as dated as the Newport ads. The Newport work has no pretensions to be anything more than a billboard. The Chase ad lowers the bar for our whole industry.

  12. L said

    Umm… what issue was your Entertainment weekly? Was it from the 80’s or 90’s? Because these ads, they look vintage, and not in a good way.
    In fact, I thought all cig advertising in magazines was pulled… or maybe that was just PM products.
    Anyway, These ads… I can’t say anything good, so I won’t say anything at all…
    Newport Pleasure!

  13. L said

    I was just having a laugh at the magazine issue!

    They really look like they just pulled the art from past ads/stock and changed the copy.


  14. have to agree with jah, the chase ads just blow–they’re so, so phoney. seems like they were created in the late 80’s or early 90’s. the newport ads aren’t trying to be anything more than shitty ads.

  15. Vian said

    Thank you for this post. 20 years ago, Newport ads bugged me with their ridiculous open-mouthed people doing things that seemed to be intended to be fun/sexual but instead were just odd. Tonight I was flipping through an Entertainment Weekly, thought, “God, Newport ads suck” for the umpteenth time, and decided to try to find out why. Googling “Why are Newport cigarette ads so bad” brought me to this page. You don’t seem to know the _why_ of it, but at least I know I’m not alone in hating them.

  16. steve said

    HAha! This is great! After seeing yet another terrible Newport ad in the Feb 2012 Popular Mechanics, I figured there must be someone on the internet talking about this matter. I too wonder who approves these ads and believes they are fit-to-print.
    This particular ad features a fellow who appears to be a garbage man cheering with waitresses? Even the placement of the cigs in their hands is wrong.
    Another ‘crassic’ the the stringy-haired fellow who is surprised by a heavily frosted cake presented by his girlfriend? He appears to have been drinking all day and about to passout!

    Maybe they are smarter than we think, because here we are talking about it…..

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