Since February, the RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company has heralded Winston cigarettes, one of its four principal brands, with a creative campaign proclaiming: "Leave the bull behind." Now, alas, it's the campaign that Reynolds is leaving behind, as it ends advertising for Winston and another core brand, Doral.

That shocking news came last month as part of major cost-cutting by Reynolds that includes layoffs. The culprit: a far harsher competitive climate because of rampant discounting by Philip Morris, which, as the number-one American cigarette company, has almost twice the market share of Reynolds and thus sets the tone in the estimated $63 billion domestic industry.

The "Leave the bull behind" creative, from a small Philadelphia agency Gyro Advertising, was only the most recent in a skein of efforts by Reynolds to revive Winston's flagging fortunes. Before that, it was a campaign themed "No bull," and before that, a campaign focused on a line extension, Winston Select, and before that, a campaign centred on new packaging nicknamed "The Wrap," and before that ... well, you get the idea.

The idea that there will no longer be ads for Winston is hard to process for consumers of a certain age, for whom the brand was an early object lesson in the ways Madison Avenue could create demand for products that, until they existed, people didn't know they wanted. Reynolds brought out Winston in 1954 as one of the first of a generation of mass-market filter cigarettes, capitalising on concerns about the health effects of smoking, which knocked off a cadre of entrenched non-filter brands such as Chesterfield, Lucky Strike, Old Gold and Pall Mall.

The nascent brand gained its momentum through a nascent medium, TV, with commercials centred on a jingle that began: "Winston tastes good like a cigarette should." The gimmick of using "like" instead of "as" was one of the first instances of creative deliberately drawing attention to itself to stimulate debate and thereby pique consumer curiosity. Reynolds so revelled in the angry letters from English teachers that a subsequent campaign asked the question "What do you want, good grammar or good taste?"

Gradually, Winston displaced its rivals and reached the top of the US brand hit parade - until 1976, when it was out-advertised by another brand, Philip Morris' Marlboro, which, thanks to the creative ministrations of Leo Burnett (the man and the agency), morphed from a women's cigarette heralded as "Mild as May" to a masculine smoke that welcomed converts by proclaiming: "Come to Marlboro Country."

The end of commercials in the early 70s spelled doom for Winston, which relied so much on its jingle that it never developed an effective method of selling in print or outdoor. Marlboro, meanwhile, thrived without such spots, as its Marlboro Man cowboy proved to be a powerful brand character not only in its home market but also overseas. Though Winston remained a top-ten brand, its sales and market share have been shrinking inexorably, impervious to the myriad creative comeback attempts.

Winston's fate may have been foreshadowed by a flap in 1997, when Reynolds pulled a print ad depicting a blues guitarist after the musician Bo Diddley complained the photo resembled him and threatened to sue.

It was perfectly clear then that when it came to Winston, Reynolds didn't know Diddley.


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