Tobacco Company Marketing on Pittsburgh Youth and Residents

About the Project

My project involves examining different tobacco companies’ advertisements distributed within the Pitt News and Pittsburgh Post-Gazette through the “Documenting Pitt” and “ProQuest” databases. By conducting a content analysis of these advertisements, we may understand the appealing yet diverse marketing strategies and motives of Big Tobacco between 1950-1970 or in a period of mass consumption in the United States. Investigating how major tobacco corporations have influenced Pittsburgh’s citizens and students to use their products may provide context behind the reasons that have caused an increase in the public’s use of tobacco products today. Therefore, by analyzing the tactics that large tobacco corporations employed within the selected period of study, we can understand how smoking was not only considered a recreational activity but a culture. 


Image from The Pitt News. vol 43, no. 24 depicting a cigarette advertisement from the popular tobacco company Chesterfield on January 6, 1950

Marketing Strategies in Sample Advertisements

To begin this discussion, we may analyze this cigarette advertisement distributed by the tobacco corporation Chesterfield in January 1950. At first glance, the viewer may gain a superficial impression of wealth and affluence associated with smoking cigarettes, as the man depicted in the advertisement is the famous actor and producer, Franchot Tone. By employing this celebrity endorsement, Chesterfield creates a scene describing that wealthy and popular individuals consume cigarettes. Therefore, the corporation sets somewhat of a precedent regarding that if one was to ‘fit it,’ he or she should take advantage of the chance to raise their social image and reputation within the public. But, this advertisement not only appeals to those with intentions to gain popularity, but also credibility. Taking a deeper look at the image, the viewer is able to understand that these cigarettes are primarily marketed at “Cornell and [in] Colleges and Universities throughout the country,” including the University of Pittsburgh. This indication reveals that Chesterfield aimed to appeal to youth populations, in particular, to increase sales and consumer purchases of nicotine-related products. With Chesterfield having a prominent role in ‘American colleges,’ it is evident that their consumer base consisted of college students who have, perhaps, struggled to gain popularity within their university years. Lastly, Tone’s and Chesterfield’s emphasis on including Cornell University within this advertisement reveals a tactic towards intelligence. As an affluent man with a reputable education at Cornell University, Tone implies that Chesterfield cigarettes are “Top [of the line]” among Hollywood stars. Therefore, they should be vastly effective and popular among college students who are working towards academic excellence and ‘the college experience.’ In the end, Chesterfield utilized multiple alluring elements within this advertisement to interest those who desire to be as prominent as Tone and create a social image and reputation where the only opportunity cost is spending a few bucks to buy a package of cigarettes or tobacco.


Image from The Pitt News. vol 43, no. 29 depicting a cigarette cartoon from the popular tobacco company Philip Morris on January 24, 1950

Within this advertisement, which was also circulated in January 1950 by the tobacco company Philip Morris, it is clear that there were many tactics that these organizations employed to mobilize the youth consumer base. At first sight, employing a cartoon or comic is a notable sign that a company or corporation desires to send a message or point across a larger audience or population to gain a unified interest in the product marketed to consumers. Within this image, the viewer is able to see a man smoking multiple cigarettes happily, while two women watch on. Although it may not seem completely explicit regarding the characters’ ages, the college pennant behind the two women signals the viewer that this advertisement was meant for university students to digest. With Philip Morris’ initials printed on the pennant, the corporation aimed to convey a feeling or emotion of getting involved with college life. The pennant represents that students should have the same enthusiasm for consuming Philip Morris cigarettes as watching a football game or expressing school spirit. But school spirit typically stems from the atmosphere of competition. The supply of cigarettes to populations in Pittsburgh was incredibly influential during this period that tobacco corporations would commonly compete with each other in order to make their product more presentable to consumers and secure more profit when compared to competing brands. Philip Morris was no exception and did not elude the growing marketing strategies of their rivals. They mention that their cigarettes “are definitely less irritating, [and] definitely milder than any other leading brand.” They go even so far as to mention, “No other cigarette can make that statement,” calling out the quality of other cigarette brands while boasting their superiority. In the end, college engagement was key in gaining sales and raising the company’s popularity and this idea is reflected in Philip Morris’ subsequent advertisements to stay ahead of the competition.


Image from The Pitt News. vol 43, no. 34 depicting a cigarette cartoon from the popular tobacco company Philip Morris on February, 24 1950

This other cigarette advertisement distributed by Philip Morris in February 1950 again appeals to younger consumer populations. As mentioned above, implementing cartoons within advertisements allows a corporation to gauge and interest more potential consumers because one may not have the time to read an article but may have a second to view a cartoon and digest the overall meaning that the producer attempted to display. Specifically, this cartoon sets the scene of a Prom night or school dance. Typically, these events are hosted by a student's high school, which raises the point regarding whether Philip Morris attempted to sway even younger populations to use and buy their product. The viewer then focuses on a young man, who is characterized to seem unattractive, as he attempts to gain peer recognition by consuming Philip Morris cigarettes. This idea goes back to the concept of popularity and how consuming cigarettes, or Philip Morris cigarettes, in particular, is a means of gaining acknowledgment and validation. The man’s strategy is successful, as these products make him seem more desirable to attractive women. Philip Morris utilizes a technique that appeals to the idea that ‘sex sells,’ in which the viewer is able to realize that if he or she purchased these products, he or she would be in the same situation as this young man and potentially attract a partner. This indication is evident as two men in the background are in disbelief as they watch an attractive woman entertain a moderately unpopular man, who becomes subject to envy by his classmates. This interpretation conveys that anyone has a chance of obtaining recognition and admiration from their peers after purchasing these cigarettes. Philip Morris attempts to idealize their customers' hopes and dreams by presenting them with a reality that they find favorable. In this case, one’s esteem and reputation can be improved, and the path towards acceptance and approval would be accessible.

About the Creator

Paras Chand is a second-year student majoring in the Biological Sciences and Sociology, and minoring in Chemistry. He hopes to attend medical school and pursue a career as a physician after his undergraduate studies. 


I would like to thank my archivist mentor, Zach Brodt and my faculty mentor, Dr. Mark Paterson for their expert advice, encouragement and execution of this project. I want to extend my gratitude and appreciation to Patrick Mullen, Laura Nelson, Jeanann Croft, Gesina Phillips and members of the Library University Staff for their continued support and help as I navigate through my research endeavors. 

Tobacco Company Marketing in Pittsburgh