Bull Durham: Establishing a National Brand
In the years prior to the Civil War, branding was in its infancy. Customers would typically ask merchants for the best product rather than a particular brand. But after the Civil War, Bull Durham Tobacco emerged as one of the strongest brands in the country.
In 1865, Civil War soldiers raided John R. Green’s tobacco warehouse in Durham. When those veterans returned home with a newfound taste for Durham tobacco, they provided some of the best word-of-mouth advertising imaginable. Green established Bull Durham as his brand in 1868 and brought on partner W.T. Blackwell.
Bull Durham business partner Julian Shakespeare Carr used advertising to spread the Bull Durham brand across the globe. He was perhaps best known for the teams of painters he sent to paint the brand on buildings and fences across the United States.
“It ain’t no use to tell me that advertising don’t pay. I have studied advertising and am satisfied about it.”
Julian S. Carr in a letter to W.T. Blackwell.
Makin’s of a Nation
Ultimately, James “Buck” Duke acquired Bull Durham under his tobacco conglomerate, American Tobacco Company (ATC). Around 1916, ATC sales manager George Washington Hill gave Bull Durham a new slogan, “the makin’s of a nation,” to create a niche for the product as machine-rolled cigarettes continued to gain popularity.
Hill’s sketchbook contains notes on his vision for this and many other American Tobacco brands:
“You can make for yourself, with your own hands, the mildest most fragrant cigarette in the world--and the most economical. Machines can’t imitate it. The only way to get that freshness, that flavor, that lasting satisfaction is to “roll your own” with the good old Bull Durham Tobacco.”
Copycat Brands Other tobacco manufacturers recognized that the words “Bull” and “Durham” were selling well, and copycat brands such as Black Bull, Old Bull, Sitting Bull Durham emerged in town and further afield.
The Dukes and Trading Cards: Making Tobacco Very American
In 1885, James “Buck” Duke took a gamble on mechanizing cigarette manufacturing and was able to produce far more cigarettes than anyone was smoking at the time. The new Bonsack machine made 200 cigarettes per minute for the Dukes. Even the most skilled hand-rollers were only able to roll three or four cigarettes per minute. Increased production at a lower cost gave the Dukes a strong competitive advantage.
Duke turned to advertising to create a bigger market for his product. W. Duke Sons & Company salesman John Featherstone Small developed collectible trading cards printed on the stiff cardboard found in cigarette cartons. The cards were created through the recently developed technology of color lithography.
Trading cards subtly suggested that cigarettes were as quintessentially American as Benjamin Franklin or Thomas Edison.
Caption: Great Americans. Courtesy of W. Duke, Sons & Co. Advertising collection
American Tobacco Company’s baseball card for Honus Wagner is the most expensive baseball card in history. Wagner asked to be removed from the series because he did not want to be responsible for selling cigarettes to children, and so only a limited number of his card were printed before production stopped.
Women, Smoking, and Advertising
Smoking was not socially acceptable for women in the 19th and early 20th centuries. Women were often featured in tobacco ads and promotions, but they were rarely smoking. When ads did show women smokers, they were usually foreigners.
By the late 1920s, women had won the right to vote, and women’s liberation was in full swing. Meanwhile, the temperance movement was publicly condemning alcohol and tobacco use. It was in this environment that Durham companies such as Liggett & Myers and American Tobacco Company turned their attention to a new customer base: women.
American Tobacco Company and public relations pioneer Edward Bernays hired young, liberated women to smoke “torches of freedom” (Lucky Strike cigarettes) on Fifth Avenue in New York.
In 1968, Phillip Morris introduced Virginia Slims, marketed to young professional women. In 1971, Liggett and Myers introduced Eve, also marketed exclusively to women but focused on femininity rather than liberation.