Virginia Slims: Capitalizing on the Essence of Women in a New Era of Equality
Taking into consideration the versatility of a woman’s individuality, their need to gain their independence and feel empowered, and equating their struggles and triumphs during a new era of equality, the Phillip Morris Company launched one of the most successful cigarette campaigns in history geared towards the feminist movement that spanned over a 30 year period. This ingenious campaign not managed to interpret feminism into something to sell, but it paved the way for inverted feminine ideology while female consumer simultaneously became enslaved by the very tobacco company that sought to empower them.
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Utilizing a then and now approach, Virginia Slims adverts penetrated television, radio waves, and magazines, linking the drudgery and oppression that women in the past had endured with the contrasting emerging freedom and glamour of the modern woman of today. “At 11:59 p.m. on New Year’s Day, 1971 the last commercial advertisement for cigarettes aired on television. It was a 60 second spot for Virginia Slims, run on the Tonight Show, and it spared not even a second.” Beginning with a depiction of a women dressed in 1920’s garb, a male voice could be heard describing how a woman had no rights. As the commercial progresses and the woman begins to strip away the layers of clothes that bound her, a new woman (Veronica Hamel) emerges. Shaking her hair loose and putting on mascara, she emerges as the glamourous woman of today. A woman’s voice can be heard describing the new slim filter cigarette tailored for a feminine hand. It closes with the jingle: “You’ve come a long way, baby. To get where you got to today. You got your own cigarette now, baby. You’ve come a long, long, way.” By eliminating the male voice and replacing it with the female voice, it not only sent a subliminal message that was this a gender specific cigarette, but that the “New Woman” – independent, empowered to make her own choices yet submissive to no one, was beginning to take shape in this era of equality. “At precisely 12:00 a.m. on Jan. 2, the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act went into effect.”
Although cigarette ads would forever be banned in the U.S. on TV and across the radio waves from this day forward, it did not halt the “smashing success” of this product, as Virginia Slims splashed their way across billboards and the pages of the most influential magazines nationwide. It was clear at this point, that Phillip Morris indeed had a winner.
Throughout the 60’s and well into the early 90’s, Phillip Morris embraced the language of
feminism with ads that helped women feel liberated. The following is a series of ads featured during
this time period.
Virginia Slims, 1969.
Similar to the television ads that premiered in 1968, this ad features two well-defined sections. The upper third in black and white, and the lower two-thirds in color. The top of ad features several women from the turn of the century, three which appear labeled. The text displayed below the ad correlates with the numbered women, each offering a brief explanation as to where they smoked their first cigarette, while the others offer “no comment.” In contrast, the greater portion of the ad below features a young lady, dressed pretty hip, and in a flattering pose. The brand, “New Virginia Slims,” is displayed to the upper right of her, as you follow the text that cleverly appears to hug her curves, your eyes become first drawn to the packaging of the product, and then to the slogan at the bottom, “You’ve come a long way.” While the top photo is meant to signify women’s suffrages, the lower...