Even at the height of ‘women’s liberation,’ products aimed to female consumers were actually marketed to men.
In July of 1968, Philip Morris released a spin-off of its popular Benson and Hedges cigarette brand. The modified cigarette, in design narrower and longer than Philip Morris’ previous offerings, was launched during a time that found many Americans newly aware of the dangers of smoking. It was meant, as a distraction from that, to evoke elegance—a certain daintiness. Which is to say that the new cigarette brand was marketed toward women. Virginia Slims, Philip Morris announced in its ads, were “tailored for your hands—for your lips.” And they were, in all that, “slimmer than the fat cigarettes men smoke.”
But the cigarettes also had, the company suggested, a deeper appeal. Virginia Slims were, in Philip Morris’ presentation of them, tobacco-infused celebrations of progress itself. And their marketing was broad in every sense of the word. Virginia Slims were aimed at the newly liberated (or, well, “liberated”) women of the ‘70s—women whose lives had been transformed by advances in politics and medicine, women who were newly able to think about “careers” as well as “jobs,” women who were able to consider divorce in a way that would have scandalized their mothers and grandmothers. These were women, essentially, who were able, for the first time, to think about their lives playing out on somewhat of an equal footing with men. And ads for Virginia Slims, the cigarette that celebrated this equality by contradicting it, spoke to those women as directly as they did breezily: “You’ve come a long way, baby.”