120 Park Ave.
New York, New York 10017
Telephone: (917) 663-4000
Fax: (917) 663-2163
Web site: www.altria.com
NOTE: Since the initial appearance of this essay in the 1998 edition of Major Marketing Campaigns Annual, The Philip Morris Companies changed its name to Altria Group Inc. The essay continues to refer to the company's former name, as that was the official name of the organization when the campaign was launched.
The slogan Philip Morris Companies Inc. used in 1968 to launch its Virginia Slims campaign—"You've Come a Long Way, Baby"—effectively combined the two seemingly dissimilar marketing themes of female attractiveness and women's rights. The series of ads were highly successful, however, and in 1996 the company introduced a successor campaign with the slogan "It's a Woman Thing."
The new campaign, which was directed by Leo Burnett USA of Chicago, took on what might be called a post-feminist ironic tone. For example, a photo of a beautiful blond woman on a motorcycle was accompanied by the line "I don't necessarily want to run the world, but I wouldn't mind taking it for a ride." Another ad showed a young woman who exuded beauty, happiness, and "female cool" polishing her nails a metallic blue. The accompanying line asked, "Does this look stupid on me? The correct answer to the question is 'No.' "
Cigarettes had been marketed directly to women since the 1880s, when the Kimball Tobacco Company tried to sell perfumed cigarettes called Satin Straight Cuts in satin drawstring purses. The effort failed because of the social climate. When in the 1920s Lucky Strike ads appeared that featured slender young women who advised, "Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet," suggesting a correlation between smoking and thinness, sales tripled within a year, however. The image of Amelia Earhart was used in Lucky Strike ads of 1928, which implied that the aviator had smoked Luckys on her transatlantic flight. (Earhart, a nonsmoker, protested.) The following year, fashion and activism combined when debutantes and feminists marched in New York's Easter Day parade smoking "torches of freedom" in the form of Lucky Strikes.
In 1967 the American Tobacco Company failed in an attempt to market king-size cigarettes for women with the line "Cigarettes are like girls. The best ones are thin and rich." But when Philip Morris introduced Virginia Slims a year later with the slogan "You've Come a Long Way, Baby," the brand rose into the number one spot for sales to women. The strategy behind the initial marketing of Virginia Slims linked good looks and emancipation,
or, in the words of Ellen Merlo, the company's group director for brand management, "Old-time fashion and fun." Sepia-tinted photographs of downtrodden "women of yesteryear" shown sneaking cigarettes and then feeling shame upon being discovered were juxtaposed with bright, glossy images of beautiful contemporary women who seemed to have arrived at full-blown independence. The ads were slightly sardonic about the lot of women in earlier times, when "a woman wasn't allowed to vote, earn, talk, think or smoke like a man," as characterized in the Virginia Slims Book of Days Engagement Calendar.
Direct advertising was never the sole promotional device used by Virginia Slims. The Book of Days Engagement Calendar, introduced in 1970 and offered free at points of sale, contained humorous historical anecdotes and memorable sexist quotes but few overt selling lines. The Virginia Slims...