May 1998
s m u g
target audience
by Leslie Harpold


A Long Way Backwards, Baby

bye bye baby

Like, Omigod, okay, um, there's lots of room for smoke in my big empty head, okay? I mean it! Quite a change from "You've come a long way baby" isn't it? The new Virginia Slimes campaigns have abandoned the feminist stance that effectively marked the brand as the ultimate chick cancer stick has ended giving way to their new outlook "It's a woman thing". Indeed.

Whenever I've heard anyone utter the phrase "It's a woman thing" it always refers to one of the biological malfunctions solely experienced by the fairer sex . Nomenclature muttered by males when the female members of their life are having problems associated with their reproductive organs. That set of plumbing that often mystifies and frightens them, or at the very least, is uncomfortable for boys to talk about. So - Virginia Slims have been likened to some sort of uterus based ailment? I don't see how this is a step forward for the brand.

There's more than a bad slogan at work in this ad though. Let's all get on the same page by outlining a few givens here: 1. Virginia Slims are a woman's cigarette, definitely. Men don't smoke them except for camp or when they're caught in a nic fit and that's all they can find. 2) Virginia Slims, although a tobacco concern supports a lot of very pro-women events - the Virginia Slims tennis concern alone has made great strides in moving women's athletics up the ladder in visibility (you can't argue that one, their sponsorship is known for increasing the visibility of women's tennis a thousand fold - remember - they started doing that i the early 70s - pre Nike). 3.Virginia Slims previous campaign has highlighted specific social challenges women have overcome. Overall they've been a very chick positive brand, despite the fru-fru slimness of the product itself.

Now this. We see a woman collapsed amongst colorful frocks and strappy sandals, eyes wide, vapid look on her face, eyes turned to the implied man or men outside the frame and the poetic copy "When we say we have nothing to wear, never try to convince us otherwise."

Hundreds of thousands of dollars, millions of eyes and a few seconds to say one thing - to leave an impression and this is what they come up with? I'm not saying that the past predicts the future, in fact, I know it doesn't, but still, after all those leaps forward, a brand built on the progress of women, having both celebrated and actively participated in it, and this is what they turn into?

I admit that the 'closet full of clothes and nothing to wear' syndrome has afflicted me personally before, but this is not uniquely feminine in nature. Many times I have stood at the closet of a loved one and gone through the "what about the green shirt? What about the zipper sweater? Maybe not the bigpants?" ritual, forget trying to get the boy to pick a pair of shoes. Now It's a woman thing, and the very fact that someone - and the implication is men should not argue with us when we are indecisive about something so trivial and vain hurts my ears and offends my sensibilities. It's patronizing. Plain and simple, drawing a clear line in the sand between the us and them and elevating the most petty of concerns to a point of contention. The natural next step is don't argue with me about my clothes problems, because this is what is important to me. By default, that leaves anything of substance out of the loop.

Oh Virginia, why did you take your skinny cigarettes and turn on me? One of the only consistently girl loving campaigns has soured and I think, made a crucial mistake. A series of ads that once celebrated advancement of women and increased parity between gender has now taken giant leaps toward setting it all back to square one. I fear that the next change for the company will be dropping the sponsorship of athletics in lieu of tan line and wet t-shirt contests.

Between the vacant look in the model's eyes and the five syllable tag line that was most certainly not plucked from some Basho poem Virginia Slims has just undone three decades worth of work and my belief that smart and sassy sells.


in the junk drawer:

and such
and such

ouch this hurts

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