Selling smoking to 'the video generation' in the 1980s

Tempo, a new brand of cigarettes, seemed to be aimed at teenagers in 1985.

With mauve and yellow brand colours and hip young models, critics said Tempo ads were aimed at teens

Tempo, the cigarette for teens?

39 years ago
A new brand of cigarettes in 1985 seemed to be aimed at a young -- even teenaged -- smoker. 3:14

Three decades ago, the tobacco industry had a vexing problem: customers were literally dying off. To stay viable as a business, cigarette manufacturers needed new smokers.

Enter Tempo, a brand that was being heavily advertised in 1985. Ads in colours that were in vogue at the time featured hip-looking young people.

"[Tempo ads] are directed all towards, like, younger people," said this teenager having a cigarette outside her school. (CBC Archives/The Journal)

"Clearly the style and the portrayal of the models in the ads is geared to reach the video generation," said Douglas Barr of the Canadian Cancer Society.

And some teens agreed.

"[The ads] are directed all towards, like, younger people," a teenage girl on a smoke break outside a Toronto high school told CBC reporter Fred Langan.  

'Ugh, Dad ... what a scuzz' 

But the ad agency that made the Tempo campaign waved off the characterization of the ads as targeting teenagers.

"My 14-year-old daughter has looked at that campaign, along with some of her friends," said Ron Kovass of the JWT agency. "And they said, 'Ugh, Dad, those people really look yucky. What a scuzz that guy is.' But I can tell you there are some 25- and 26-year-old secretaries that really want to meet that guy."

Other teens outside school for a cigarette said they didn't pay attention to the ads.

"I think the advertising's really stupid," shrugged one boy. "Advertising has nothing to do with it. A lot of us smoke generic cigarettes, whatever's cheap."  

Models' clothing was the culprit

Kovass said the clothing worn by the models in the ads was giving Langan the wrong impression.

"What a scuzz that guy is!" a teenage critic of Tempo ads was said to proclaim. (CBC Archives/The Journal)

"You're a very conservative dresser, I'm a conservative dresser," he said. "But if you want to ... go to some of the very trendy nightspots, you're going to find people that dress like that and look like that."

"Ad people say [Tempo ads] are clever, because even though they might appeal to high-school kids, no one can prove it," said Langan.

The Canadian Cancer Society agreed, he said, and on that basis was planning to lobby the government to outlaw so-called "lifestyle ads."

According to the Toronto Star, federal health minister Jake Epp criticized Tempo ads three times in as many months in January 1986, but didn't know if a ban on cigarette advertising in Canada was a good idea.

But in 1988, the government passed the Tobacco Products Control Act, which included a ban on advertising tobacco products.