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  1. 1. Alan Stephen Evans BA (Hons) Photography 2005/06 GSG2-01 Critical and Contextual Studies Stewart Roberts November 22nd 2005Sign Wars: Advertising and Media Semiotics
  2. 2. I have chosen cigarette advertising for the purpose of this essay. As a youth, I frequently attended the localcinema. Before each film, the cigarette industry did its best to sell the joys of smoking. One that sticks in mymind is the add for Hamlet cigars. The slow classical music and the tagline, “happiness is a cigar calledHamlet”. It persuaded an eleven-year-old boy to go out and purchase a pack for his dad. As a mature student, ithas become a source of interest to annalyse just how and why they did it. Since its discovery and subsequenttravel around the globe, tobacco has become a source for great wealth. The tobacco industry has grown andspawned companies, which make billions of pounds each year. Advertising has played a big part in its success.Opponents claim that tobacco has killed thousands of people with direct smoking and made thousands of otherssick through passive smoking. Despite the well-documented health warnings, the tobacco industry continues tothrive. Cigarettes have been portrayed amongst other things as, A WARTIME FRIEND MAKER OF FRIENDS A CHRISTMAS GIFT 1 2 3 A CULT CLASSIC A PLEASURE THE 9TH WONDER 4 5 6Advertisers have strived to draw attention to the cigarette. Newspapers, television, radio, cinema, sportingevents and billboards have all been used to promote the industries product. They have been presented in anumber of ways. In most cases, it has included a strong visual content and design as well as clever use oflanguage. In his book, Gotcha Twice, Wei Yew describes the billboard as a ‘tremendous medium for gettingattention’.17 Marlboro is the worlds best-known brand after Coca-Cola. It is the worlds top selling cigarette brand. Top 10 Tobacco Brands Worldwide in 2003 by volume In 2003 the volume of sales reached 475bn cigarettes.2 The main reason for this success has been the advertising campaign. Leo Burnetts Marlboro Man. Regarded by many as the most successful advertising campaign of all time. Marlboro was a failing brand with a mainly female audience when Burnett introduced the cowboy. This later add features a cowboy riding a horse. The layout here is an A4 format. It is suited to newspapers and magazines. The cowboy has a cigarette hanging from one side of his mouth. The slogan reads ‘Come to Marlboro Country’. The colours are predominantly earthy browns with a blue sky. The text is, white, sans serif. It sits at the top of the page. The cigarette packet sits in the bottom leftcorner. The red and white packet is open with two cigarettes popping up. The image is iconic. The advertisingagent responsible for the add said, "We asked ourselves what was the most generally accepted symbol ofmasculinity in America."3 The answer must have been, a cowboy. Described at the time as ‘an international1 Wei Yew, Gotcha Twice, The Art of the Billboard 2, Quon Editions, Preface2 http://www.mind-advertising.com3 P. Taylor, Smoke Ring - The Politics of Tobacco, 1984, Bodley Head, p29
  3. 3. symbol of freedom of choice’.4 The cowboy is an all American hero. He is close to the earth. This is signified inthe choice of earthy colours. The preferred reading of the image is of freedom, ruggedness, and masculinity.The audience is predominantly the American male population. A film version usually featured before filmshowings at cinemas. It was accompanied by the music from the film, ‘the Magnificent Seven’. The film itselfachieved cult status. It invites you to buy into a time, a place and a lifestyle. The honest cowboy has beencommodified. In truth, the Marlboro Man is a legend or a myth. It has been placed firmly in the psyche ofAmericans. According to a study of advertising campaigns, consumers reported seeing more Marlboro Mancigarette ads than ads for any other campaign, including McDonalds and Pepsi. 829 out of a sample of 1,005adults had seen the ads three times or more.58 Anti smoking groups have targeted the Phillip Morris International Group. They have accused them of marketing to children. A study from the University of Michigan found that smoking among eighth-graders increased 30 percent between 1991 and 1994. About 85 percent of the teens that buy cigarettes in the United States usually purchase Marlboro, Newport or Camel cigarettes - the nations most heavily marketed brands. In response, Phillip Morris International have established youth smoking prevention area ontheir website. They are also championing community initiatives.6Following the systematic banning of tobacco advertising in the U.K the U.S and the E.U. Cigarettemanufacturers have moved towards utilising public sporting events through sponsorship or the provision ofprize money. Internet advertising, cigarette advertisers are also exploiting group pages, bloggers and viraladverts. ‘Pop ups’ have become a major source of irritation for web users.9 10 Leo Burnett’s original image of the ‘Marlboro Man’ received a new lease of life when it was replicated in 2004 on numerous websites. The contemporary version showing a U.S. marine was circulated worldwide making him an overnight celebrity. Marlboro are now associated with the Grand Prix racing circuit and off road expeditions.11 British American Tobacco is the worlds most international tobacco company, selling over 300 brands of cigarette in 180 countries, including Benson & Hedges. 7 This add was used as part of the company’s cinema and billboard campaign. The posters have gone on to be included in world’s 100 best posters. The add features the pyramids of Egypt amidst a setting sun. The colours are predominantly gold. The main signifier here is the colour. The colour gold can be associated withwealth and beauty. The preferred reading might be that the gold in the poster is linked to the distinctive goldcigarette packet. It could also trigger a symbolic link between the gold within the tombs of the Pharohs, to thedesirable and sought after gold packet. The audience would have to have some prior knowledge of the brandbefore an association could be made. The pyramids are one of the World’s wonders. They are mysterious and amagnificent feat of human effort. The pyramids have been commodified and are unable to object to being used4 N. Souther & S Newman, Creative Director’s Sourcebook, 1988, Mc Donald & Co, p2345 www.kickbutt.org6 www.kickbutt.org7
  4. 4. in this way. They are iconic and globally recognised. The target audience is a worldwide adult market. Thescale of the adds is intended for billboards, magazines and the wide screens of the cinema. The poster does notcarry any message. It is a purely visual image. The absence of text as a reference means that the symbolismneeds to be consciously understood. The viewer is required to decide what it means. The add differs inapproach to the marlboro man. There are no cigarettes and an absence of people smoking. In the 1970’s, newcigarette advertising rules meant that it was becoming difficult to say anything specific about a tobacco product. 12Further posters became more surreal and generated more interest. The psychopathicdentist ad bears only the words, "Smoking Causes Fatal Diseases" and the tar and nicotinecontent. Others included packets of Benson & Hedges cigarettes as candles, pencilshavings, fossils, skelatised snakes, etc.813 The anti smoking lobby has grown steadily. It has placed pressure on governments around the world to ban advertising and sponsorship by the tobacco industry. You are no longer allowed to smoke in many public buildings, bars or cafes. Huge claims for compensation from cigarette smokers has also hit the industry. This billboard add has been targeted. The once purely visual add is daubed with a strong message. One could argue that the viewer did indeed decide the meaning and opt to share it. Benson & Hedges are now associated with golf and Formula 1 racing. 14This add is for Silk Cut cigarettes. It features a shower behind a silkcurtain and theatrical lighting. The reference here is to the film,‘Psycho’ by Alfred Hitchcock. In the film, the victim is taking ashower when ‘psycho’, Anthony Perkins slashes her to death. Itrelies on intertextuality, a link between the film and the brand inorder for the viewer to interpret the message. The curtain is notslashed but the intertextual link with the film implants the messagethat the silk will be cut. The main colour is purple. This signifiesthe association with the colour of the packet of cigarettes. Thecolour purple is also associated with royalty, the death of Christ,passion and tarts (slang for overglamourised person). Silk Cut’s target audience is young females and the gaycommunity. Silk Cut is associated with rugby league and yacht racing.Most of the Silk Cut adds feature some form of cutting implement or reference to cutting or slashing. It led to apaper being published on "Eros & Thanatos"9 by Alistair Macintosh. In the paper, he suggests a link betweenthe adverts, rape fantasy, violation, torture and death. The paper gained coverage in the Sunday Times and WallStreet Journal. As a result, the add man responsible; Charles Saatchi was asked for an explanation about thepsychologically disturbing images. The shower add followed and, no further cutting or slashing images weresubsequently used. Similar to the Benson and Hedges poster campaign, it is purely visual with a strongsurrealist influence. Scissors resembling those in Salvador Dali’s work feature heavily. In his paper, Macintoshtakes a Freudian view that the cuts represent the vaginal slit. He makes a connection between the showercurtain add and the raping and murder of psycho’s victim. In another Silk Cut add, a hand appears from behinda curtain in a purple glove. The hand is to be seen cutting the phone wire. Mackintosh relates this to anotherHitchcock film which features a man you do not see, cutting off a phone and attempting to strangle his victimwho in turn, stabs him with a scissors.8 N. Souther & S Newman, Creative Director’s Sourcebook, 1988, Mc Donald & Co, p3149
  5. 5. Silk Cut also ran a series of cinema adds which attained cult status. In one of the adverts, British soldiers atRawke’s Drift, were being attacked by Zulu warriors. The warrior was about to strike, he paused and took out apacket of Silk Cut. He addressed the viewing audience asking, ‘Have you tried dee taste of dee new Silk Cut?’The add may not have been acceptable today. Stronger regulations and stricter censorship means that an addwhich generates only one complaint may be withdrawn.An add for Cerco IT Training and Recruitment included the voiceover claims “Cerco IT Training andRecruitment has been known for high quality, hands-on training for over 15 years” and “training centrescovering the UK”. The advert generated two complaints.One viewer claimed that the company only had two centres. Another claimed that the company had only beentrading for three years. The Advertising Standards Authority upheld the complaints and banned the add.10A report in the Sunday Herald suggests that the tobacco industry is on the verge of a price war as a result of thegovernments ban on advertising. In his article, Mike Woodcock suggests that the industry will revert to moresurreal advertising campaigns to get around restrictions.11The future for advertising tobacco is uncertain. Gallaher, which makes Silk Cut and Benson and Hedges, hasjust signed a new sponsorship deal with the Jordan formula one team, despite the fact that the EU will outlawtobacco sponsorship in 2006. In October 2000, Gerard Hastings and Lyn MacFayden published a reportcontaining an analysis of internal documents from the Tobacco industry’s main advertising agencies. The reportcontained communications between advertising people and the cigarette companies. One communication fromBenson and Hedges was blatant in its aim. It described how they required a campaign, which made more 18 to34 year old to smoke B&H than ever. It went on to rubbish Marlboro and Camel cigarettes. It exposes Bensonand hedges relationship with the advertising industry. It demonstrates the way in which referencing to someproducts is seen as beneficial. Ben Sherman, Tequila and Nike are all mentioned as positive factors. The articleseeks to differentiate between the American culture, seen as cowhands and Roy Rogers wannabees. Theirvision for the British youth is that they must pop a packet of B&H in their Brit designed shirts. The hypocrisy isthat Benson & Hedges is a subsidiary of the American Tobacco Company. The article also sets out their agendafor the targeting of 18 to 34 year old men. They have a definite idea of the gender, age and class of person thatthe imminent campaign should be directed at. We want more 18-34 year old blokes smoking B&H than ever before. We want to see these dudes ripping-up packets of Marlboro and Camel and treating them with the disdain that second rate, American filth deserves. For Christs sake what the hell are people doing smoking brands that are made to be smoked by cowhands and not by the youth of the trendiest, coolest, most happening country in the world. In many ways this brief is really a charity brief. Trying to help people recognise the error of their ways, thinking they are being cool smoking what Roy bloody Rogers smoked and opening their eyes to the unchallengeable truth that the coolest smoke in the world is a B&H. We want to see Great, British B&H in the Ben Sherman shirt pockets of Brit-popped, dance-crazed, Tequila drinking, Nike kicking, Fast Show watching, Loaded reading, Babe pulling, young gentlemen. So what we need is the coolest, most exciting, white-knuckle ride of a campaign ever 12The need to exploit new markets requires advertisements, which target specific groups of people. The lesbianand gay community are in the sights of the industry. The pink pound is being targeted. Benson and hedges havebeen sponsors of gay pride. The gay market is seen as affluent, with disposable income. As the noose tightens,the tobacco industry has set its sights on Eastern Europe, Asia, Africa and China. 13The advertisers are also focusing their attention on other key areas. Point of sales in shops, pubs, clubs andcolleges are all to be overhauled. The design, colour, shape, smell, and feel, etc of cigarettes and packets mayall be set to change in an increasing battle to secure sales. Targeting individuals with free offers and exclusivebranded products online is seen as a way to entrap and retain loyal customers. The tobacco industry is moving10 www.sundayherald.com12 www.tobacco.org13 M. Macalister, Making a Packet - the New Tobacco Gold-rush, the Observer Magazine, 1992, 8 November
  6. 6. with the times and adapting to restrictions by finding new ways of advertising an age-old product. BibliographyM. Macalister, Making a Packet - the New Tobacco Gold-rush, the Observer Magazine, 1992, 8NovemberN. Souther & S Newman, Creative Director’s Sourcebook, 1988, Mc Donald & Co, p234P. Taylor, Smoke Ring - The Politics of Tobacco, 1984, Bodley Head, p29Wei Yew, Gotcha Twice, The Art of the Billboard 2, Quon Editions, PrefaceInternet, 2, 3 & 5 www.chickenhead.com6 & 11 www.mind-advertising.com7,, www.cartoonstock.com9, Creative Directors Sourcebook, p23410, www.misterpundit.blogspot.com4, 12, 13 & 14