One of the most famous advertising campaigns in US history launched on this day in 1968: "You've come a long way" (sometimes with "baby" added at the end) was the provocative tagline for a new, thinner cigarette produced by the Phillip Morris Company and marketed specifically to women. The campaign, developed by the famed Leo Burnett Agency, was wildly successful, both in commercial (it sold a lot of cigarettes) and cultural terms, becoming almost instantly a national catch-phrase.
The campaign traded on-- one might have said "co-opted" in the 1960s-- the emerging feminist consciousness and the rise of "the New Woman," a woman who was independent, self-sufficient, and eager to demonstrate her confidence. At the same time, imagery in the ads linked this sassy confidence with U.S. women's history (itself an emerging field in academe) in contrasting the freedom and glamour of today's woman with the drudgery and repression that women in the past had endured.
It was all very clever-- and Phillip Morris knew they had a winner right away. An in-house corporate study from 1986 touted Virginia Slims' "brand personality" as the key to its success. Contrasting the brand with "women's" brands produced by PM competitors, such as "Eve" and "Satin," Phillip Morris said the Virginia Slims brand was "feminine but non-threatening. It was 'user-friendly.' The women were women who could make choices but had not lost their femininity. The brand was aspirational."
"Aspirational"-- and also, like all other cigarettes-- addictive and lethal. The Virginia Slims campaign was widely credited-- "blamed" may be more appropriate-- for convincing thousands of teenage girls to take up smoking as a sexy, free-wheeling and ..... even revolutionary act.