Kent Cigarettes - The white man's burden.

You've had a hard weekend. You deserve a break. So, pull up a white crate and take a load off in your white seamless void while your white wife serves you a pure, clean Kent, you massive honkey.

It must be hard to design ads for cigarettes. There's no appealing to the consumer's better judgment, or rationality. All you can do is remind the consumer what cigarettes offer them, assuming they're already addicted to the product. Trying to get a non-smoker excited about the "taste" of something that smells so undeniably foul is an uphill battle.

So what can you do? You can make the product seem clean and pure - like the pure enjoyment they'll get from smoking a nice mild Kent. No color says "clean" like white. White psych wall. Check. White props. Check. White wardrobe. Check-a-roonie. White models. Oh, you bet that's a big check! This is 1965.

"Put that out, you handsome devil!"
This ad features Watrick Parburton as The Smoker - a hard-working husband taking a break from re-painting the featureless white void he populates with his adoring servile wife-being, who takes no greater pleasure in life than getting on her knees to light her husband's Kent.

It's interesting to note that they had to paint in a flame for the lighter for a few reasons. Reason number A) The pose probably took a while to get right, and the models were surely holding this position for a long time. They didn't really want to burn the cigarette, so the lighter probably wasn't lit. Reason letter 2) Photographing a flame in a white studio with several thousand watts of light would be nearly impossible. It wouldn't show up. Notice that the yellow flame is slightly darker than the white background. Flame is always a light source. It can't be comparatively darker than the background it's photographed against. Shot against white, flame is nearly invisible.

I used to run into this all the time at the cartoon studio I worked at. We did a lot of girly toy commercials. I was the background painter (you know: scenery for cartoons). The client would always want the brightest colors possible in their commercials, usually pinks and purples. The sky was always the brightest blue (or pink) you can imagine... so much so that it was almost white. Then, we'd have to add pixie dust or sparkles of some kind for the animation. Trouble is, stars and sparkles and stuff are always a light source. They have to be bright or they just look like brightly colored insects or jacks or something. So, the client would complain that the sparkles didn't show up. Then I'd have to patently explain (or sometimes not) to our producer that the background was too bright for the effects to be visible.

I don't think we did this commercial, but we might as well have.

The real world has an infinite range of brightness that your eye adjusts to automatically. Think walking outside on a summer day, coming out of a dark house. It takes a few seconds for your eyes to iris down. Video and computers only have 255 levels of brightness. Everything has to fit into those 255 levels somehow. So, time and time again we'd have to make the magic tinkly sparkles darker than the nearly-white sky. Long story short, you can't have night without day, or light without dark. You can, however, have a smooth filter and great flavor.

Click for big.


Steve Miller said...

No appeal to rationality? Hell, man! it's a goddamn Micronite filter! It that doesn't sound like the epitome of rational, scientific thought, this ad man doesn't know what does.

BTW, the black models were all in the KOOL ads. And the punch-drunk models were in the Tareyton ads. Tareyton, I just read, with it's "I'd rather fight than switch!" campaign, was a spin off of the earlier Herbert Tareyton brand, whose slogan was the catchy "There's _something_ about them you'll like!" Whoa, guess we just proved your thesis on the irrationality of cigarette advertising.

Maybe, as the WWII US staging camps were named after cigarette brands, Herbert Tareyton could have grabbed a little Continental flair by using the revised slogan "There's a certain _je ne sais quoi_ about us that you'll like!" After all if you can't dazzle 'em with rationality, baffle 'em with foreign words.

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