When Death Cigarettes Lit Up the Field of Noxious Marketing

If you're going to smoke, you might as well dig death

Death’s cynical swagger elevated it to cult status with teens.
Headshot of Robert Klara

Truth in advertising is something most Americans think is good. But 26 years ago, one U.K. company took the idea so far that nobody was sure what to think.

In its February 15, 1993 issue, Adweek took up the strange case of Death cigarettes. Launched by the Enlightened Tobacco Company (which got the idea from an earlier American version), Death seized on the concept of warning labels mandated for cigarette packs and pushed it to the limit, using messages like “It’s Your Funeral” and “Blow Yourself Away.”

As founder B.J. Cunningham told us, Death’s aim was simply to tell the truth. “Cigarette smoking will not make you sexy,” he said. “Cigarette smoking will make you dead.”

Trouble was, Death’s cynical swagger elevated it to cult status with teens. Media companies refused to carry the ads and, within a few years, Death achieved the ultimate meta feat: It died.

@UpperEastRob robert.klara@adweek.com Robert Klara is a senior editor, brands at Adweek, where he specializes in covering the evolution and impact of brands.
Publish date: April 18, 2019 https://stage.adweek.com/brand-marketing/when-death-cigarettes-lit-up-the-field-of-noxious-marketing/ © 2020 Adweek, LLC. - All Rights Reserved and NOT FOR REPRINT