Saturday, September 7th, 2013

Old cigarette ads

If you read my Columbia House post, you know I recently acquired a copy of the July 3–9, 1976 issue of TV Guide. Before I share the whole issue, I want to show you the cigarette ads. There were a lot of them.

The Central Ohio edition that week had 128 pages, 32 pages from the color national wrapper and 96 black-and-white local pages. Of the color pages 21⅞% were for cigarettes, just over half of the color ads—for Viceroy, Benson & Hedges, Salem, Tall 120s, Kool and Kent.

Of all the ads, my favorite is the one for Benson & Hedges 100’s, a two-page spread showing a smoking clown looking at himself in a mirror while applying his makeup. His cigarettes are too long for him to get close enough to see!

“Oh, the disadvantages of our long cigarette,” jokes Philip Morris. Pay no attention to the real disadvantages of our cigarettes is what they’re really saying. If you focus on not hitting your long Benson & Hedges 100 against the mirror, you’ll forget that it’s killing you.


The Salem Longs ad is funny along the same lines. R.J. Reynolds asks if we remember that “We all smoke for enjoyment.” Salem Longs have “the good tobacco taste and menthol I enjoy. That’s all I have to remember to enjoy smoking.”

Yes, that’s all we have to remember—how good cigarettes taste. Don’t remember that smoking causes lung cancer.

The rugged manly racecar driver in this Viceroy ad doesn’t care about the taste or length of his cigarettes. “Why Viceroy? Because I’d never smoke a boring cigarette,” he says.

I don’t know why Brown & Williamson thought this ad proved their cigarettes weren’t boring. They probably didn’t really. They just wanted impressionable people to think that smoking Viceroys would make them as interesting as a racecar driver.


Tobacco companies strongly preferred advertising in color. In contrast to the color national section, almost a quarter of which was cigarette ads, only 3 pages, or 3%, of the black-and-white local section were cigarette ads, for Doral, Pall Mall, and Silva Thins. Perhaps having a B/W ad implied that your cigarette was inferior; I never smoked and don’t know which cigarettes were discount brands.


The impossibly-thin model in this Silva Thins 100s ad proclaims, “I’m a Thinner,” whatever that means. I bet American Tobacco Company wanted people to think it meant that if you smoked Silva Thins, you could be thin yourself.

I don’t remember Silva Thins, but googling them I discovered that ad exec F. William Free created a Silva Thins ad that said, “Cigarettes are like women. The best ones are thin and rich.” The National Organization for Women didn’t like that and launched a boycott of Silva. Free got his though, dying of lung cancer.

Monday, September 2nd, 2013

Do you remember Columbia House?

Columbia House logo I just came across a vintage Columbia Record & Tape Club (better known as Columbia House) ad from 1976. These ads were ubiquitous in the 70s, and lots of people, including me, were club members.

The draw was getting 11 records or tapes for $1.00 (plus $0.86 shipping and handling), if you join now and agree to buy 8 more selections (at regular Club prices) in the coming 3 years.

Regular Club prices weren’t bad. $5.98 or $6.98 for records, $6.98 or $7.98 for 8-track tapes or cassettes. Reel tapes were always $7.98, never $6.98 or $5.98, but they were on their way out (* Selections marked with a star are not available in reel tapes).
Take your pick: 12" stereo records or 8-track cartridges or tape cassettes or 7" reel-to-reel tapes
Cassette tapes were just becoming popular († Available on records and 8-track tapes only). Vinyl and 8-track were king, covering all of Columbia House’s offerings.

The catch was the stupid automatically-mailed Selections of the Month. They were optional—if you prefer an alternate selection, or none at all, simply fill in the response card always provided and mail it by the date specified—but what Columbia House counted on was that people would forget to mail back the cards and thus would end up with records or tapes they might not have been otherwise motivated to order but nonetheless became obligated to pay for.

I ended up with a bunch of records—Boz Scaggs, Neil Diamond, Paul Simon, Dan Fogelberg, Melissa Manchester, Stevie Wonder, Linda Ronstadt, Beach Boys, Chicago, Simon & Garfunkel, Earth Wind & Fire, Barry Manilow, Natalie Cole, Cher, Aerosmith, ZZ Top, and more— none of which I have today. I carted them all off to Stuart Hall my freshman year at University of Dayton along with my stereo, and they quickly became scratched and unplayable. Not that it matters now—I bought a lot of the music a second time on CD and anything I don’t have now that I might want to listen to I can find digitally via legal or less than legal means.

Amazingly Columbia House still exists, but only for DVDs, not for music. They still ship stuff automatically unless you opt out, but now there are no cards to mail, just a website to visit. Except who buys DVDs these days?

Click on any of the images below to embiggen, or view all four pages in a PDF. Where did I find this ad? In the July 3–9, 1976 TV Guide (central Ohio edition), which I’ll post soon in another blog entry.

1976 Columbia House ad - page 1 (click to embiggen)1976 Columbia House ad - page 2 (click to embiggen)1976 Columbia House ad - page 3 (click to embiggen)1976 Columbia House ad - page 4 (click to embiggen)
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