Kills “Good” or Kills “Bad?”

On my outbound flight for a brief vacation, a friend flipped by a print ad in the airline’s magazine that caught my attention. A shockingly stark Marlboro cigarette ad was promoting it’s product… but, I couldn’t tell how, exactly.

The ad was simple. It had two cartons of cigarettes that displayed enormous warning labels that read, “Smoking Kills.”

Obviously, the issue of smoking and the government’s mandate for such extreme labeling is an controversial issue and I’m not interested in debating the political implications at length… although I could. Rather, I want to focus on the design itself.

The contrast of this in comparison to the old ads I grew up seeing is amazing. We now live in a country that won’t let you positively advertise your own product if it’s not politically popular.


However, there is some poetic justice. “Smoking Kills.” I’m sure this direct message is intended to boldly shock a potential smoker into rethinking his or her habit. However, “Kill” can also be extremely positive. For an example, if a comedian or musician has a great set, people often say they “killed” or “killed it.” I just thought it was strange how ambiguous the modern ad was. Does it mean kills “good” or kills “bad?” There’s nothing else in the ad to give me a hint… except more government warnings. At least with the old ads, usually showing a content cowboy enjoying his free lifestyle, the intension was clear.

I’m sure that if the government was smart enough to know that there was any potential double meaning to this message they’d be preparing a ban… oh, wait, tax money… no worries.

Well, advertising design may change, but irony is timeless. Image the complexities once they allow images of dead bodies on cigarette packaging. Subtle.