The Death of Joe Camel and the Marlboro Man

In the latter part of the fourth season of AMC’s Mad Men, Sterling Cooper Draper Pryce experiences the loss of their most important and loyal client, Lucky Strike cigarettes. Losing this massive account caused the firm to scramble looking for ways to drum up enough business to stay afloat, so Don Draper boldly took out a full-page ad in The New York Times declaring that SCDP would no longer accept tobacco accounts and that the company would no longer create advertisements for potentially harmful products. Although this unanticipated and risky move by Draper was frowned upon unanimously by his associates, it seems, in retrospect, that getting out of the tobacco game was a very well-timed gambit on his part.

In the 1950’s and early 1960’s, tobacco companies were frequent sponsors of television programs and sporting events whose advertisements were ubiquitous in daily American life. Slogans like “I’d walk a mile for a Camel”, “Us Tareyton smokers would rather fight than switch!” (itself created by oft-referenced SCDP rival firm BBDO), and “Winstons taste good like a cigarette should” captivated a nation where smoking was commonplace and widely accepted. However, as scientific evidence revealed that smoking caused cancer and numerous other health problems, lawmakers received increased pressure to lessen the presence of tobacco in media. This pressure culminated in the passage of the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act of 1970 by the US Congress, which banned all television and radio advertisements for cigarettes, relegating them to existing only in such media as magazines, newspapers, and billboards. Since then, even more strict restrictions have been placed on cigarette advertisements. Under the recent Family Smoking and Tobacco Control Act, tobacco companies are banned from sponsoring sports or music events or place their logos on articles of clothing. Eventually, this law is going to require that tobacco advertisements consist of only black text on a white background except for in certain “Adult-oriented” publications. It’s hard to imagine even Don Draper being able to do something with that.

Sources: "Tobacco Advertising" and "New FDA Rules Take the Fun Out of Cigarette Advertising"


  1. You make an excellent point about SCDP leaving the cigarette game at a good time. I thought that Don's ad in The New York Times was in itself an ad to the other companies that SCDP has as clients that they will be okay. Also, the ad opens up the doors to anti-smoking campaigns that have become very popular in the decades after Mad Men takes place.

  2. I thought that this blog post was definitely informative, yet not very insightful. The author didn't really say anything new or come up with any different ways to look at this incident in Mad Men, he/she simply summarized the happenings. While it was interesting to learn the history behind the banning of cigarette ads and their future, it did not provide me with a greater understanding or appreciation of Don's scene. I think that it would have been more effective to analyze the timing of Don's move as historically compared to other advertising firms decisions to do the same: Was it realistic for Don to have done this so early in the game? Contextually, would this have helped or hurt his firm? Could the ad be construed as unprofessionalism? It would have been interesting to explore some of these questions as opposed to just listing facts.