In the 1980s the Newport cigarette company ran a series of magazine ads showing women and men interacting. The tag line was “Alive with pleasure! After all, if smoking isn’t a pleasure, why bother?”
One ad showed a man and a woman embracing while squeezing giant, long balloons between them.
The ad campaign continued with a woman squirting her boyfriend with a drinking fountain, spraying him with a boda bag, and a holding an icycle up to his mouth.
The Freudian overtones are pretty obvious now that two decades have given us a little more objectivity.
But what is even more interesting are the facial expressions. Are those really smiles of pleasure, or something else?
Primate social behavior expert Jane Goodall has said, “The chimpanzee's smile so often seen on TV is actually a grin of fear.” Monkeys and apes pull their lips back from their teeth in social situations to show extreme discomfort.
Sometimes the primate smile has an aggressive side. Diane Fossey, who studied gorillas, said, "The primate grimace known as the threat face tells an aggressor to back off."
Humans have two kinds of smiles. One is the genuine smile of pleasure. The other is the nervous grin. It’s the uncomfortable smile that we see at cocktail parties or in conference rooms when people are unsure of their social position.
Anthropologists call it the “deferential grimace.” It’s often accompanied by a squinting of the eyes.
Above is a painting by contemporary Chinese artist Yue Minjun. Time Magazine describes the expression in Mr. Minjun’s work in this way: “a laugh that isn't entirely funny; an exuberance shadowed by deep unease.”
The Newport ad campaign affects us on two simultaneous and conflicting emotional tracks. The conscious track tells us that these are happy people having fun together. The unconscious track, which the conscious mind easily dismisses, awakens uncomfortable feelings of role reversal, alienation, or jealousy.
The conscious tag line is “Newport: alive with pleasure!” But the unconscious line should read: “Newport: fraught with social anxiety!”
But why does it sell cigarettes?
A study suggesting that Americans and Brits use slightly different muscles when expressing the deferential grimace, link.