Curator of the History of Advertising Archives
Rendez-vous with . . . Richard Pollay
University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Canada
By Philippe Boucher
Rendez-vous 106 Wednesday, July 18 2001
PB : Thank you Rick for accepting our rendez-vous. May I ask you to introduce yourself?
Rick Pollay: I grew up in New England in the 1950s and naively smoked Marlboros for 15 years, throughout my college and graduate school years and when first teaching, even smoking in the classroom in 1966-1970. I teach in a business school (UBC, Vancouver), sharing my training in marketing, consumer behavior and advertising. After years of research on the more general topic of advertising's history and social and cultural effects, I focused on tobacco issues when asked by lawyers to do a study of cigarette advertising of the 1930s - 1950s. What I learned so shocked and fascinated me that I have continued pursuing tobacco marketing history to this day.
Q1. There are 8000 tobacco ads in the collection you gave to Roswell Park (http://roswell.tobaccodocuments.org) When and why did you start collecting them? Where do they come from? All over the world or mostly from Canada and the US?
RP: I began collecting examples of cigarette ads after doing a research study for, and testifying in, the Cipollone trial (NJ, 1987). As I participated in other trials, and did my own collecting, the number of examples grew and grew -most recently supplemented by purchases from eBay. Almost all examples are U.S., spanning the entirety of the 20th century. Small subsets are related materials such as editorial cartoons, news headlines, advocacy ads, prevention ads, and overseas ads.
Q2. What did you learn from the study of those ads? What should they teach us about the strategies used by the tobacco industry?
RP: I've learned a great deal about how tactics change (a) when targeting different types of audiences (men vs women, starters vs concerned addicts); (b) when new technologies are introduced (e.g. filters, "light" products, "superslims", etc); (c) and when the industry members adopt new policies as a result of regulation, news events, or collusions (e.g. getting off TV, responding to the health scare of the 1950s and ceasing the use of explicit health claims that were "part of the problem").
Q3. 8000 ads, it's a lot of pictures. Are some more equal than others? What ad icons or ad campaigns do you think stand out?
RP: This is a very tough question. Many campaigns are notable for different things they illustrate, such as Marlboro's shift from being "mild as May" to using the cowboy as an icon of independence. On an artistic level, and for its role modeling, my favorite campaign is that of the Viceroy ads of the late 1950s wherein "intelligent people" were smoking -rocket scientists, astronomers, anthropologists, newspaper editors, etc. The art work was painstakingly detailed original art instead of the photography that is so common today.
Q4. Can you identify historical trends, dominant genres or special characteristics that would help classify the ads and help the public make sense of the hidden agenda behind the ads?
RP: At the simplest level it is important to distinguish between those ads which function to recruit the young (showing independence, peer approval, good times) and those that function to reassure and retain the health-concerned smoker (light, mild, low tar, etc.). Historically, some of the watershed events have been (a) the introduction of national big budget advertising with Camel in 1914, (b) the 1953 health scare and industry collusion following the infamous Plaza Hotel meeting, in December 1953 along with the launch of filters; (c) the 1964 Surgeon General report; (d) the abandonment of radio and TV in 1971; (e) the introduction of low-yield products in 1976. Each phase sees many firms competing employing similar tactics and also evolution as new ad claims are better "understood" by the public, e.g. that filters are there to "protect" health.
Q5. Ads are still around but much more money is now invested in promotions. Are you studying promotions as well? Aren't the ads shrinking symbols of the past while promotions would now be the dominant marketing tools?
RP: The collection is still active and complete through until 2000, and definitely includes promotions. Most promotional activities are manifest by retail displays, catalogs, and magazines ads calling attention to events, contests, "giveaways" etc.
PB: Thank you Rick for taking the time to be with us today.
Rendez-vous is supported by a contract from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation
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