Box Vox

packaging as content

September 7, 2012

I Love you, Women’s Designer Packs!


Detail of a 1968 New York Magazine ad for Liggett & Myers Tobacco’s women’s “Designer Packs”

Thinking about Ann Romney’s clarion call to women at last week’s GOP convention — “I love you, women!” — I am reminded of big tobacco’s efforts to make cigarette smoking more appealing to women in the 1960s. Attempts to show how a Romney’s presidency would benefit women, are little like the “Designer Packs” of cigarettes above. The same unhealthy product, but for women!

“The beautiful pack… Slim, trim, a beautiful whim. To slip into purse or pocket. Or circulate at parties… a fabulous change of face—all together, a couture collection. When your favorite cigarettes separate the hers from the his, what can you say? Beautiful!”

The ad copy from J. Walter Thompson’s print campaign suggests, that the Designer Packs were like “his and hers” towels, but as with a lot of branding by men for women, the working assumption was that women’s buying choices would be driven more by fashion than function.

The fairer sex may not be big users of cigarettes (reportedly only 35% of smokers are female, and they normally smoke less than men) but Liggett & Myers is making a determined bid to persuade women smokers to buy its brands — by packaging them in highly unusual four-unit Designer Packs created expressly for New York’s fashion-conscious females.

Designs for the distaff smoker, Modern packaging: Volume 41, 1968


“The Beautiful Pack” 2-page ad spread from New York Magazine, May 20, 1968

Designed by George Tscherny, the “Designer Packs” were produced at a time when U.S. packaging regulations did not require as much warning verbiage as today. Tscherny was free to print his warning on the outer Cellophane in order to make his packages highly-aesthetic style objects with minimal product information. (via: Container List)

All of Tscherny’s Designer Packs do the “incomplete package” thing of combining with other packages to make a “larger whole.” In the Lark’s Filter designer packs, each of 4 packs has one of four letters which all together spell out the brand’s name .

Other promotional photos show decorative, but abstract arrangements of the four packs with coffee and ashtray—a louche version of pentominoes for the aesthete, feminine smoker.

The Chesterfield Filter designer packs were shown similarly arranged in a pattern-making game, but with more of a black and white, Bridget Riley look.

Putting it down in white on black

10-cigarette capacity Chesterfield filter’s designer pack has only two lines of copy, white on black. On top of pack: “Chesterfield filter cigarettes.” Down one side of pack is standard health warning. Length of warning, relative to starkness of package design and absence of any other copy on front or back of pack, gives warning more visibility than product name.

Art Direction Volume 20
National Society of Art Directors – 1968

The L & M Filter designer packs were also “incomplete packages” but more “painterly” with colors from one pack bleeding into the next.

The Designer Packs, unquestionably the boldest departure in cigarette packaging ever to emerge on the commercial market, may prove to be a significant factor in determining the future direction of the industry’s marketing. If they succeed (for they are still only in the test-marketing stage, and only in New York City), designers are more likely to enjoy the unqualified trust and respect of their clients in the future. If they fail, the client’s wife may again be the central decision-maker, and new ideas are likely to be avoided as assiduously as cancer and communism.

Industrial Design Magazine, Volume 15, 1968

As it turned out, the Designer Packs did not pass their test-marketing with flying colors. The Industrial Design article intimates that this may have been due to lack of proper marketing support…

Tscherny says, “but I’m not unhappy with the way it came out.”

…Neither is anyone else, to judge by the delighted reactions of consumers and designers alike. The problem, of course, is to translate favorable reaction into hard sales figures, and unless this can be accomplished fairly quickly the Designer Packs may never be seen west of the Hudson.

“The Designer Packs look quite promising for us, and they’re selling quite well, all things considered,” comments a spokesman for the client. By “all things,” however, he refers to what can only be considered an all-too-limited marketing strategy. Liggett & Myers began its campaign on the unsubstantiated (and probably false) assumption that the Designer Packs would appeal only to the “class” market. Distribution was limited to hotels and tobacconists in fairly prosperous neighborhoods, and a 10-percent premium was tacked on to the price. Supermarkets, where women do their shopping, were excluded. This strategy has now been changed, but design has been compromised in the process. When L&M finally decided to go into the supermarkets, it did so in one hell of a hurry, and it quickly bowed to the wishes of the supermarket managers for a carton sleeve. The sleeve, of course, had to be designed, but L&M felt that there wasn’t enough time to call in (or even notify) either the designer or the art director. So the design of the carton sleeve was left to the client’s brand manager. Although the result was amazingly good, the move must still be deplored as bad practice. If the Designer Packs are to be given an honest test in the marketplace, it would be a good idea for L&M to go back to Tscherny for a review of the carton sleeve, and for redesign of the point-of-purchase display racks as well. The next step at standard prices and in all places cigarettes are normally sold.

There’s also one other reason why the failure of this product may not have been the designer’s fault.

(Don’t blame the designer, after the fold…)

The 1968 memorandum below, from Liggett and Myers’s “Flavor Laboratory” cites problems, not with the Designer Packs branding, but with the quality of the contents!

By the way, “Designer Packs” was trademarked:

Also: Tscherny suggests that, if he had it to do over, he probably wouldn’t.

“1967 when I began work on the designer packs, was a year of unrest and change. Having the health warning (which had just become mandatory) on the cigarette packs was yet to have its full impact. The announcement by the Surgeon General was overshadowed in the US by events such as the Vietnam War, student uprisings, and race riots. Being a non-smoker myself, I didn’t realize by promoting cigarettes I was encouraging people to kill themselves. Now, over forty years later, I doubt I would have accepted the assignment.”


On left: 3 shipping cartons of cigarettes for women (from the Industrial Design Magazine article, September 1968); on right: Romney with 3 boxes of pizza for firemen

See also: Jeannie McKendry’s Bottles with Syringes