As early as 1896, French film pioneers the Lumiere brothers were mixing it up with the Lever Bro’s when they featured Sunshine Soap in their films in what was surely a mutually beneficial exchange.
The original Matinee at the Bijou series featured a 1938 theatrical cartoon produced by Walter Lantz that was actually a commercial short made for Bristol Myers. It featured colorful characters from the syndicated comic strip “Reg’lar Fellers” promoting Ipana Toothpaste on the big screen.
Soap and toothpaste and other benign consumer products take a back seat in the controversy over product placement in movies. Cigarettes and smoking remain in the driver’s seat when it comes to outrage among social critics, consumer activists and health-care professionals.
In 1989, much media attention accompanied the prominent integration of Lark cigarettes into the screenplay for the James Bond movie, License to Kill. This commercial transaction between Philip Morris and United Artists led to the inclusion of a “United States Surgeon General Warning” in the closing credits of the film, along with calls for an outright ban on the practice.
However, long before James Bond drew fire, White Owl Cigars paid out $250,000 for a tie-in to WB’s 1932 Scarface gangster movie in exchange for the right to claim that star Paul Muni smoked them in the movie. Chesterfield got a similar deal with Columbia on behalf of You'll Never Get Rich, a 1941 movie starring Fred Astaire.
And long before Joe Camel was indicted for influencing kids to start smoking, cigarette companies had been subtly and secretly targeting kids as young as 2 years to eventually adopt the addictive habit. The cigarette companies always denied this, of course, but as evidence, the British Medical Journal published the following in their review of previously secret tobacco advertising:
The tobacco industry recruits new smokers by associating its products with fun, excitement, sex, wealth, and power and as a means of expressing rebellion and independence. One of the ways it has found to promote these associations has been to encourage smoking in entertainment productions. Exposure to smoking in entertainment media is associated with increased smoking and favourable attitudes towards tobacco use among adolescents 2–8.
While the tobacco industry has routinely denied active involvement in entertainment programming, previously secret tobacco industry documents made available in the USA show that the industry has had a long and deep relationship with Hollywood. Placing tobacco products in movies and on television, encouraging celebrity use and endorsement, advertising in entertainment oriented magazines, designing advertising campaigns to reflect Hollywood's glamour, and sponsoring entertainment oriented events have all been part of the industry's relationship with the entertainment industry.
Case in point is an outrageous and bizarre 1935 cartoon called "Kool Penguins", created by Brown & Williamson Tobacco Company and promoted to theater managers and chains as "amusing for grown-ups and a real laugh for the youngsters". The cartoon depicts an animated penguin battalion flying in from the South Pole to Kentucky where they participate in the production of Kool cigarettes. The penguins then drop cartons of cigarettes over New York City until the skyscrapers are blanketed in snowdrifts -- of Kools. The final shot depicts the Statue of Liberty lighting up a Kool before the camera pans up to show a pack of Kools in Liberty’s hand in place of the torch.
Brown & Williamson marketing campaigns were strategically engineered to include window displays and placards advertising the “Kool” cartoon and how theaters could get the cartoon for free, along with advertising displays that integrated the name of the feature movie being shown. The theater got a free cartoon and display, and the cigarette company got a priceless association with the latest hit movie.
Fortunately, when cooler heads prevailed, the studios would occasionally offer a more positive message in their cartoons, shorts and features. One such example is an anti-smoking cartoon and a Bijou favorite called Wholly Smoke, starring a very young Porky Pig. A neighborhood bully convinces Porky to take a puff from his cigar, causing Porky to hallucinate and conjure up a character named Nick O. Teen, who teaches Porky about the dangers of smoking. A song Little Boys Shouldn’t Smoke accompanies a lively musical soundtrack with performing cigars, cigarettes and pipes, along with celebrity caricatures of Cab Calloway, Bing Crosby, The Three Stooges and many others.
Great Thanks to our friend and colleague Steve Stanchfield and Thunderbean Animation.