“Terrible. [They] stick in one’s throat.” That was one smoker’s dismissal of Camel cigarettes, just before taking a blind taste test in 1920s America.
His usual brand, Lucky Strike, “go down easy and smooth” he said. And that’s how he knew he must be smoking a Lucky.
As Allan M. Brandt recounts in The Cigarette Century, the man was – of course – unwittingly smoking a Camel.
Nowadays, the awesome power of branding is hardly news. Back then, it was only just beginning to become apparent.
Early big-name brands included Kellogg’s cereal, Campbell’s soup and Colgate toothpaste. But nowhere was branding more crucial than with cigarettes.
Unprecedented sums had gone into launching Camels, for instance. In 1914, day after day, newspaper adverts built excitement.
“The Camels are coming!” ran the tease, followed by another advert promising: “Tomorrow there’ll be more Camels in this town than in all Asia and Africa combined!” before the final proclamation that “Camel cigarettes are here!”
In fact, cigarette historian Robert Proctor argues: “It is probably fair to say that the industry invented much of modern marketing”.
So, why did cigarettes lead the way?
A few reasons. Cigarettes might have struggled without the accidental discovery of flue-curing. It made tobacco less alkaline, meaning you could suck smoke into your lungs, which is more addictive than holding it in your mouth. The invention of the safety match helped, too.
But the starring role goes to an inventor from Virginia called James Bonsack and his clever machine.
SOURCE: BBC News