Vintage ads always surprise us when they elevate terribly unhealthy products to levels of importance on par with the best things in life. When I first took a look at this vintage cigarette ad from L&M, my first impression was that the baby was going to be subjected to second hand smoke and in those days the public didn’t realize that it was dangerous to your health. Other tobacco advertisements even used endorsements from physicians! But when I read the copy on the ad “When a cigarette means a lot…” it seemed pretentious of L&M to compare smoking a cigarette to as much meaning as taking a family portrait of mother and child that will be a lasting memory for as long as they live. So I took a look at other L&M vintage advertising from that same campaign. Each one had a special moment that could be one of life’s fondest memories with the same slogan “When a cigarette means a lot…” – a hunting trip with your best friends, a soldier coming home with Christmas presents, a special moment with the one you love, and other special treasured family moments. What do these important life events have to do with a cigarette? How can it even compare? Well, in reality, it can’t. L&M is using an advertising technique that tries to build an association between these wonderful life events and their cigarettes. They are programming our emotions so that we hopefully reach for a cigarette automatically every time we rejoice in life’s special moments.
In today’s world, we know that cigarettes are bad for us. But advertisers, especially in pharmaceutical marketing, still know how to use these types of advertising techniques to associate positive emotional images with potentially dangerous products. There’s a popular prescription sleep aid that advertises frequently on television. While we see images of happy people peacefully falling asleep with the help of a delicate green butterfly, the narrator is obligated to list the drug’s side effects, which include such nightmares as anxiety, memory loss, aggressive behavior, walking or driving without remembering, severe and potentially fatal allergic reactions, worsened feelings of depression and suicidal tendencies amongst people already diagnosed with depression… The list goes on and on. It’s actually sounds quite horrifying and most logical thinkers would assess that no sleeping pill is worth the risk of those side effects. Yet it’s a very popular drug. Why? Because clever advertising techniques make us unconsciously associate images of peaceful sleep with their medication – and when that insomnia strikes you badly enough, the images of restful sleep overpower the list of hideous side effects.
Social media marketing also provides a way to use those same advertising techniques to build positive associations in new ways. Unlike a photograph or TV commercial, social networking sites such as Facebook provide a way to interact with potential customers and engage them in a personal way. I took a look at the Facebook fan page for this prescription sleep aid. They provided a fun game where you make the green butterfly catch gold coins and flowers while avoiding birds, and they turn your high scores into donations for a popular charity. Butterfly games and charitable giving have nothing to do with sleeping pills and nightmarish side effects, but a business Facebook page or other social network brand page provides many social media marketing opportunities to build new and positive associations between customers and their brand name that helps to distract the public from the negative aspects of their product. So what if I go for a drive without remembering before I become suicidal and die of a fatal allergic reaction? They seem like such a nice company and they hold the key to my good night’s sleep.
Where else have you seen the association principle being used in advertising products that probably aren’t good for you?