The Wall Street Journal’s Cynthia Crossen gives Eddie Bernays, the Father of PR, some love today in her column about “hooking” women on cigarettes.
Her “Déjà vu” piece deals with the “scandalous” behavior of women "lighting up” during the early part of the 20th Century.
A Washington Post editorial in 1914 said a man may take out a woman who smokes, but would never marry her. And if he did, he wouldn’t be married for long.
Congressman Paul Johnson of Mississippi proposed a law seven years later to make it illegal for women to smoke in “any public place where two or more persons are gathered together.”
Crossen noted that Bernays, whom she calls a “public relations genius,” finally arrived on the scene to turn the tide.
He dreamed up the legendary “Torches of Freedom” march of good-looking young women walking down New York’s Fifth Ave. on Easter Sunday of 1929 while smoking American Tobacco Co.’s Lucky Strikes. [One of those marchers was Bernays' secretary. That was a relationship not reported in the press.]
The rest is history. Bernays’ campaign “echoed across the country.” It remains a PR classic. The March paid dividends for ATC and healthcare facilities throughout the U.S. that were needed to treat women suffering from increased rates of lung and heart disease due to the PR master’s work. The Easter Sunday March truly demonstrated the power of PR for good and bad.
Bernays, to his credit, became an anti-smoking advocate later in life. During the `60s, he worked to ban cigarette ads from TV and radio along with smoking scenes in movies. He apparently was trying to undo the damage of the Torches of Freedom march. It was too little too late.
The Father of PR, in 1971, credited the Easter March with overturning the taboo against smoking overnight. Bernays, who hated his wife’s smoking habit, died in 1995 at the age of 103.
It's too bad that the March is his greatest legacy.