The Personal Reminiscences Of Albert Lasker


Then we developed what we called our “precious voice” campaign. As they were singers, they said, “My living is dependent on my being able to sing, and I protect my precious voice by smoking Lucky Strike.”

We showed beautiful pictures of the stars in their costumes, and practically all the men and women of the Metropolitan Opera Company used Luckies for a while and gave us testimony.

At that time, we paid them nothing, except that they got the publicity.

Just as I’d contemplated, we were able to get the stage and screen stars. Overnight the business of Luckies went up like the land in a boom field where oil has just been found. All other cigarettes went up, too. The women broke the prejudice down overnight and began smoking in public. I do not think two months passed before the prejudice was withering in the whole nation.

We’d hardly started the campaign when I made a trip to New York. Passing through Pittsburgh, I saw in one of the Pittsburgh morning papers which came on the train that the candy manufacturers were meeting there, and that the candy manufacturers had appropriated $150,000 to run a campaign against cigarette smoking. Already at the end of these few months the candy people were feeling it, since people have a limited amount of money. They wanted to stop the growth of cigarettes so that money could be used for candy, and they wanted a good argument for people to buy candy.

The main argument that they were going to put forward was that cigarette smoking was not good for the nervous system and for general health. The way to stop it was to eat a piece of candy. If you ate a piece of candy, the sweetness of that would so fix your saliva that you would lose your taste to smoke—which is a fact.

Then I remembered what had given me the original impulse for the “precious voice” campaign. It was that the doctor had told my wife to smoke to cut down on her appetite for sweets. So I said, “Well, if that idea is good for them with their little $150,000”—and they did run a few advertisements in the Saturday Evening Post —“that justifies us in reverse in using the several millions we have now in making the claim for Lucky Strike.”

So I went to see Mr. Hill, and I said to Mr. Hill, “I have a wonderful idea for you that we want to add to our ‘precious voice’ campaign. It will multiply the results.”

“Oh,” he said, “I have an idea I want to give you first. I have an idea I thought of myself, and I don’t want any of yours until I give you mine. I’m excited about mine.”

He pulled out of a drawer a piece of paper on which he had written these words, “Reach for a Lucky instead of a bonbon.”

He said, “What do you think of that?”

I said, “How did you come to think of that? What, for instance, made you think of that?”

He told me a story utterly different from mine, but of an incident which happened to him. Mr. Hill was a man, in certain ways, with very old-fashioned ideas. He didn’t call candy, candy. It was bonbon.

He said, “What do you think of it?”

I said, “I think it could be made terrific, but as it is, it’s no good. One word would have to be changed.”

He said, “What?”

I took a pencil and put a mark through the word “bonbon.” In its place I put the word “sweet,” and it read, “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet.”

He said, “Why?”

I said, “Because ninety per cent of the people who will read this won’t know what bonbon means. You happen to have lived in France a lot. Second, there’s a swing to ‘sweet’—one word—that there isn’t to ‘bonbon.’ But third, why do we want to limit it to candy, which is just one item of sweets? We want people not to take pies and cakes.”

Everyone knows that anything with sugar in it is a sweet. I said it should be, “Reach for a Lucky instead of a sweet,” and he agreed to that.

Then we added to our copy with each of the testifiers that they protected their “precious voices” by smoking Luckies, and that they protected their figures by “reaching for a Lucky instead of a sweet.”

I think the earnings went from about $12,000,000 a year in 1926, to $40,000,000 in ’30 or ’31 and Luckies became the overwhelming leader of the line, and the pacemaker.

Then Mr. Hill became very excited over advertising, and we changed the programs a lot. “Nature in the raw is seldom mild” is a long story. It was overused, and it was hurtful to Luckies—but that is another story.

Hill was so obsessed with Luckies that I would not call him a completely well-balanced man. He was erratic and rough because he had this compulsion, which it would take a Freud to understand, regarding the selling of Luckies. It was just a religious crusade with him—which made it very difficult at times to work with a man so narrow-minded on a thing which was all out of focus. Within himself, he felt he was performing a great social service!