ABC TV’s Australian Story, will soon run a profile of Paul Hogan best known for his three Crocodile Dundee films, his eponymous television program  that ran from 1973-1984, and for fronting Rothmans’  Winfield cigarette campaign in Australia from  July 1972 until May 1980.

Hogan was spotted by Rothmans’ advertising  agency Hertz Walpole when appearing on Channel 9’s New Faces talent show in 1971. Here’s his first and most famous ad that appeared on Australian television (tobacco advertising on TV and radio was banned from September 1976).

With its budget price and Hogan’s “Anyhow, have a Winfield” sign-off, the brand rocketed to clear market leader. The campaign was revered in the advertising industry as the most successful tobacco advertising campaign ever. The “anyhow …” was a brilliant talisman that worked on multiple levels: (“unemployed or got a dead-end job, no social life, depressed, lonely, worried about all the talk about smoking and disease? Anyhow … have a Winfield”).

Very early in my career, I worked with several others in a public interest group MOP UP (Movement Opposed to the Promotion of Unhealthy Products) to test the tobacco advertising self-regulation system’s willingness to actually regulate itself. We submitted a complaint that the industry’s own voluntary code should have precluded Hogan’s involvement in the Winfield campaign because he had “major appeal to children”, something explicitly forbidden by the code. We’d seen audience data that his TV program was proportionately more popular with children than with adults.

After a saga that lasted 18 months, in May 1972 Sir Richard Kirby who headed the industry’s Advertising Standards Council ruled in our favour, agreeing with our arguments and leaving Rothmans little choice but to pull Hogan from its spectacularly successful campaign.

I wrote up a detailed account of the saga here. The Australian newspaper headlined our victory as “MOP UP’s slingshot cuts down the advertising ogre”

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The late Vernon Brink, then head of Rothmans, also attended Kirby’s judgement. I found myself with him in an adjacent ante-room before entering the room where the judgement was delivered at Sydney’s Wentworth Hotel. We made small talk but after a few moments said to me, cryptically “It’s such pity that you didn’t come and sit down with us and discuss all of this before we got to this point. I’m sure we could have come to some sort of arrangement.”

Regrets, they’ve had a few

On a visit to Australia in 2013, Hogan told the Sunday Herald Sun that one “campaign in the 1970s caused a lot of regret – his advertisement for Winfield cigarettes (“Anyhow… have a Winfield”)”.

Hogan was reported as saying: “Yeah, we were encouraging people to smoke. At the time, 1971 or something, they used to say: ‘Doctors recommend …’ or ‘Nine out of 10 smokers prefer…’ We were all being conned. When they put the medical warning in there I said, ‘I’m going to get out of this.'” He also said  “Young ones were taking up smoking and all going for Winfield. It was a staggering success but I was a drug dealer. But who knew then?” (my emphasis)

His business partner John Cornell said much the same in an interview in The Age “For both Paul and I (the Anyhow campaign) is the sole dismay of our professional lives … when we were selling cigarettes none of the evidence was out about how bad they were and how addictive they might be. When you find that out …” (my emphasis)

The first health warning appeared on Australian cigarette packs from January 1973, just  six months after Hogan fronted his first Winfield advertisement.  He continued in Winfield advertising until May 1980,  nearly seven years after the health warnings appeared. So if Hogan indeed wanted to ”get out of this”  he certainly took his time. The advertising industry magazine Advertising News, reported that there were in fact plans for a major relaunch which had to be scrapped after the Kirby judgement.

“Who knew then?” “None of the evidence was out?”

In fact it had long been common knowledge that smoking was deadly. The first major epidemiological studies were published more than 20 years earlier in 1950 in the British Medical Journal and the Journal of the Amercican Medical Association. The Royal College of Physicians of London (1962)  and the US Surgeon General (1964) published reviews of the evidence. News media gave this evidence huge coverage, motivating many millions of people  to quit. I have a huge folder thick with photocopies of Australian press articles highlighting this information from the 1950s into the 1980s.

Hogan was not the only Australian celebrity to help promote cigarettes and then express regret. The late urbane actor Stuart Wagstaff helped Benson & Hedges with the “when only the best will do” pitch to frame the premium brand as way that wannabes could signal their aspirations after outlaying a few dollars.

Wagstaff told the Weekend Australian’s Amanda Meade in 1997 “One thing that concerned  me deeply in light of what we know today is that I might have been instrumental in people starting smoking.” But he said he never “endorsed” smoking and added that he continued to be paid for his advertising work for the brand until the early 1990s, long after the campaign ended.

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Comic Grahame Kennedy advertised Wills Supermilds, and Tony Barber advertised Cambridge cigarettes before getting his big TV break with Sale of the Century.

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Sportspeople in on the act included tennis player Roy Emerson (1960s), and then many cricket, rugby league, and motor racing identities who willingly allowed themselves to be used to promote Winfield and Benson & Hedges and speak out against any calls for banning tobacco sports sponsorship before it was finally banned in 1992.

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Rock musicians got in on the act too, playing on Philip Morris’ 1986 Peter Jackson Rock Circuit before bands like Midnight Oil, the Diviynls, the Hoodoo Gurus, and Hunters and Collectors showed leadership by boycotting it and explaining loudly why. The promotion was rapidly axed.

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“While money doesn’t talk, it swears

Obscenity, who really cares

Propaganda all is phony”

Bob Dylan: It’s all right, ma (I’m only bleeding)