On the value of 50-year-old advertising

A local store purchased an impressive full page ad in the August 25, 1970 Argus — no doubt a back-to-school style advertising strategy!¬†The last page of that issue caused an alumnus to reminisce on campus life and the value of research to cultural studies. The following comments are posted here with permission¬†of Larry Ekin, Class of 1970.

Cigarette ad

An ad from the Discount Den store in the first Argus issue of the 1970-71 academic year

Looking through a 1970 Argus, I was struck by an ad offering three packs of cigarettes for 89 cents! (that’s three packages of 20 cigarettes each). This prompted several lines of thinking. First, I hope students (and faculty) realize they have a potential trove of research material within easy grasp — I think a really interesting study — or series of studies could be designed using ads in the Argus as an indicator of merchants reaching out to a student audience. This could be done both in-depth in a year or two, or across several decades.

Second, I have long believed that if we were to identify the most striking social changes in American society over the past 20 -30 – 40 years, of course technological change would probably be number one, and I could easily see women’s role in society being second. However, I think a close third might well be tobacco. I’m sure most students today would be shocked at the thought of a student-run and student-oriented publication promoting cigarette use thought its advertising. But that would only be the tip of the proverbial iceberg. In 1970, you could smoke almost anywhere, even at IWU. Students smoked in their dorm rooms, in their fraternity and sorority houses. Faculty smoked in their offices. And, while I don’t believe you could smoke in class, every classroom building would likely have several standing ashtrays on every floor. You could smoke in the student union. I seem to recall a cigarette vending machine in the student union, but that should probably be checked against other people’s memories. In Magill, one of my floor mates came across a discarded toilet that he somehow dragged up to his room and used as a giant ashtray until the dorm mother (yes, we still had “dorm mothers”) made him clean it out because it really did stink up the whole dorm. My memory is vague regarding whether or not smoking was allowed during Student Senate meetings as well as in the cafeteria, but the point is that the norms were entirely the opposite of what exists today — the assumption was you COULD smoke. As a side note, my parents were considered somewhat eccentric because if someone visiting our house asked to smoke, my parents provided them an ashtray, but then told them to do it outside the house.

Out of curiosity I did a little research — at that time, a pack of cigarettes cost between about 35 to 60 cents, which was consistent with what popped into my mind — which was a cost of 50 cents a pack — 2 quarters pumped into the cigarette vending machine, which likely carried at least half a dozen brands. So, three packs for 89 cents was still quite a bargain — a rough adjustment for inflation would mean that it would be approximately 3 packs of 20 cigarettes for a total of $6.00. Big tobacco always worked to make their product cheap, plentiful, and easily accessible.

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