Headline History – The 1950s Cigarette Rivalry: Camel vs. Chesterfield in a Battle of Advertisement Methodology

Santa Barbara has been a college town since the late nineteenth century, even before it was UCSB. Since 1944, when the school had been officially changed to a University of California, the school has run a newspaper. In the 1950s, two cigarette brands used the college newspaper—El Gaucho—to fight for dominance over the college town. Despite the decline in cigarette and tobacco use following the end of the 1940s, cigarettes were obviously still used in Santa Barbara, as demonstrated in the advertisements. These two brands shown in the El Gaucho were Camel and Chesterfield.

El Gaucho | November 21, 1950

In November of 1950, Camel and Chesterfield both ran opposing ads in the paper.

El Gaucho | November 21, 1950

These ads both declared that their cigarette was the best. Both of the ads are shown in direct opposition to each other. They display the idea of a test. Chesterfield Cigarettes suggested that it’s easy to figure out that they are better: one must only “Open ‘em, smell ‘em, smoke ‘em.” In contrast, Camel Cigarettes claimed, “You can’t make up your mind about cigarette mildness on one fast puff or a quick sniff. A one-inhale comparison certainly doesn’t give you much proof to go on.” Additionally, both advertisements made statements about their popularity, Camel going for overall popularity while Chesterfield stated that they are the leading seller in American colleges. The marketing agents on Camel’s side were using cartoons and fictional tales to talk about their product, while Chesterfield used college-aged testimonials and pithy statements. 

El Gaucho | September 17, 1952

Two years later, in 1952, Chesterfield and Camel once again ran ads in the same paper. This time, Camel once again uses a cartoon in the form of a comic to promote their product. The ad shows a group of girls talking about how much of a “dreamboat” the new professor on campus is, but the ad admonishes that they have to wait and see. This verbiage is similar to the ad from two years before, that one must test the product: the professor, and similar to that, the cigarettes. Chesterfield at this point distinguishes itself as a brand by giving their buyer two options: king-size and regular. They also make a point to talk about the quality of their product as well. Still, Camel relies on feelings to sell their cigarettes while Chesterfield uses conclusive facts. 

El Gaucho | September 16, 1954

In 1954, the two companies again posted ads in the same issue of the El Gaucho. In this issue, Chesterfield once again leaned into their quality and their popularity with college students. Camel, however, switched their tactics away from cartoons and towards a testimonial from a celebrity, Douglas Leigh, in this iteration of the ad. Chesterfield claimed to be the cigarette of the people, while Camel displayed itself as a cigarette for people who are interested in being like celebrities. 

El Gaucho | March 21, 1956

The ads from March 1956 are different from the ones in the years before, especially Camel’s. In addition, Camel returns to its earlier stylistic choice of artistic renderings of people instead of a photograph as seen in 1964. In contrast, Chesterfield’s ad is strongly based on photos. Both of the ads focus on the concept of pleasure and happy, smiling people. This examines the idea that those who smoke either brand are likely to be happy, and neither brand in this issue of the newspaper directly opposes the other. Oddly enough, this year neither ad determines their product to be favored in any way.

El Gaucho | October 23, 1959

Three years later, at the end of the decade, in 1959, there was not any representation of the Chesterfield brand in the El Gaucho in advertisement form. This means that any fans of Chesterfield Cigarettes in Santa Barbara will be gravely disappointed, as Chesterfield lost the battle of the 1950s. 

If anyone on the Chesterfield side is a sore loser, they will be glad to know that other brands of cigarettes ended the decade by trying to give the Camel brand a run for their money by running ads, such as the ones shown above for Viceroy Cigarettes and Tareyton Cigarettes, which ran on their own platforms. The next big fight of the brands for the 60s was brewing.

El Gaucho | October 23, 1959

Chynna Walker is a UCSB History Major and English Minor who absolutely does not condone any sort of nicotine use. When not digging through newspaper archives (which is something she does a lot), she works and finds pure pleasure in spending time with friends.