How Did The Father Of PR Make Women Smoking Culturally Accepted


In the 1920s, like going to college or running for parliament, women rarely smoked or even if they did, they would be strongly condemned by society. For simple-minded people in that time, women only had one role: taking care of the family. 

The prejudice against women smoking has been rooted deeply inside the society. Even the CEO of American Tobacco Company George Washington Hill said that women smoking was the strangest thing he had ever seen with his own eyes. But in time, tobacco companies started to realize the potential of women market share. Selling cigarettes for women is definitely a huge market, but for years tobacco companies’ sales number in this market was incredibly small.

women smoking
Women smoking was an absolutely strange thing in 1920s

At that time, marketing was an extremely inflexible. It was just a tool to introduce product’s values and benefits as simple and straightforward as possible to the customers. For example, an advert for cheese at that time would simply demonstrate reasons of why your product is better than others’, namely : “Fresh French goat milk, brewed for 12 days and delivered with a freezer.” With such a marketing strategy, there was no way for tobacco companies to convince women to buy and use their products when the huge prejudge was still hanging around. 

However, the whole situation was dramatically changed by just one man – Mr. Edward Bernays. This man is considered to be “the father of public relations”, as his mind was always full of crazy ideas. American Tobacco hired him, and his first work was to dramatically changed the way marketing cigarettes for women.

Edward Bernays
Edward Bernays – the father of public relations

While all other tobacco corporations focused too much on how to convince women to buy their products via the products’ values, Bernays had a completely different viewpoint. He saw that the real problem of the situation was the social judgement and cultural barrier. If tobacco companies want women to smoke, the marketing campaign have to change the prejudice and make women smoking become a positive figure. That was the only way society accept women smoking, and then women will start to use cigarettes as the barrier has been removed.

To make it happens, Bernays hired a group of women to join a parade called Easter Sunday Parade in New York. Unlike today when parades and protests happen regularly, parades and festivals back then always drew a lot of attention from the crowd as they were rare. Following the plan, those women would stop by a suitable spot and start to light and smoke cigarettes together. Bernays hired a photographer to capture those moments and posted it on some major newspapers. 

Women smoking
Picture of women smoking in public for the first time in the Easter Sunday Parade

As Bernays told the reporters, those women light up not only their cigarettes but also their “torch of freedom” and claim their women’s rights. 

Women smoking

Obviously, all these scenes were staged but Bernays figured that using a political parade can psychologically stimulate women all around the country. Women in that generation started being free when they were able to vote. All the hot trend such as short hair, wearing colorful clothes and claiming themselves as the independent women generation were growing very strongly. If Bernays successfully attaches the image “smoking = independent” for feminism in the world, the sales figure of tobacco companies can skyrocket. 

And the Bernays’ plan worked perfectly. Not just women, all people adopted the idea that smoking = independence in women. So women all over the work started to smoke to show off their independence and also experience the rate of lung cancer as high as men.  

women smoking
Both sexes can now freely smoke, thanks to Edward Bernays

And that was how the father of PR changed the whole society. And this was his first marketing campaign. Throughout his career, Edward Bernays has carried out numerous successful marketing campaign via PR method. He has left the world with wonderful legacy in marketing field. 


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