Part 1 of Banner Heading.Part 2 of Banner Heading.Part 3 of Banner Heading.

Silk Cuts and Purple Tears


Daisy thumbnail of Silk Cut ad On trial thumbnail of Silk Cut ad Insect Eater thumbnail of Silk Cut ad Hapless Tubes thumbnail of Silk Cut adScissors CanCan Thumbnail of silk cut ad. Slashed Mouth Thumbnail of silk cut ad.

Misc. slasher.thumbnail of Silk Cut ad thumbnail of Silk Cut ad thumbnail of Silk Cut ad


animated scissorsIntroduction

Probably the most famous piece of fiction writing concerning the analysis of cigarette ads can be found in the novel Nice Work by David Lodge.    It is reproduced on the WWW in a set of pages devoted to semiotic analysis.     Lodge's characters and the author of the Web pages on Semiotic analysis both point out that ads do not simply convey an image and a message.   Whatever is presented on the printed page needs to be interpreted.    Moreover as the series of ads discussed below indicate, these may need to be interpreted in the light of a number of examples before the 'real' meaning becomes clear.    There may also, of course, be multiple meanings to any ad.  But, if there is a theme associated with ads for a specific product, the theme can only become clear when a number of ads are viewed at the same time.

The Silk Cut ads discussed here are a sample of the many ads for Silk Cut cigarettes that have been produced over the past few years.   Each ad carries essentially the same anxiety  provoking message.   Somewhat paradoxically, the use of anxiety provoking ads is calculated to encourage cigarette smokers to smoke more as a means of allaying or controlling that anxiety.   The continual presentation of anxiety provoking stimuli in conjunction with the brand name Silk Cut or the purple silk cloth also helps form and maintain a strong mental association between the brand and anxiety.  

This mental 'bond' is likely to mean that whenever Silk Cut smokers become anxious, whatever the reason, they will turn to their 'favourite' brand for relief. The vicious cycle of interdependence that such ads contribute to would seem to be socially unacceptable. To encourage addiction by semi-subliminal and manipulative ads is a practice that ought to be censured by the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA) but is not, as the correspondence on the ASA page indicates.

If products such as cigarettes cannot be sold on their merits (or lack of them) then the use of secondary imagery seems to be a 'last ditch' means of influence.   The use of such imagery provides an insight into the shameful ethical standards of those who produce and sell these products and those who serve them.   The many smokers who are encouraged to feel that they have a simple choice to make, that they can choose to either smoke or not, are being deluded.   What they have had to contend with has been a lifetime of exposure to ads that subtly insert  ideas and images into their unconscious thought processes. If effective these clearly limit ones ability to make a free choice. When the influence of semi-subliminal ad content is associated with an addictive product then it may be the smoker's phantasies that 'drive' their smoking behaviour rather than conscious decision making.

As viewers will shortly note, the 'creative' individuals who produce Silk Cut and other cigarette ads undoubtedly are laughing up their sleeves at the unconscious mental torture they continually attempt to put Silk Cut smokers through, simply to earn an unethical pound, dollar, yen or schilling.  

illustration of hand with knife and caption Cruel CutsBallBallIllustration of the actor Sam Neill with a rather nasty knifeBallBallrepeat of illustration of hand with dagger and caption Cruel Cuts

Link to top of page

hline.jpg (2424 bytes)


  animated scissorsBuds of May

Click for a larger, floating, image. A typical silk cut ad. Silk cloth with a hole in it. The ad on the left is a typical Silk Cut ad.   Superficially many of the ads seem to be a simple Rebus.   Every child who has used a puzzle book where words are replaced with images is familiar with the process, if not the word.  For example, a picture of an eye is presented in place of the word I.   Sometimes words and letters are used in combination e.g. a picture of a car and the letter T substitutes for CART. 

Silk Cut ads often depict purple silk in conjunction with a rip, tear or cut.  The purple colouring is almost incidental to the covert or latent message of all Silk Cut ads.  The tears, rips and cuts are not.

Silk Cut ad with 'face'Ostensibly the ads present a classic, high status, image. An image indicative of Click for a larger, floating, image. Thumbnail of Silk Cut ad with silk stronger than steel.quality.  The obvious messages also often seem to relate to popular culture. They may even seem humorous.  But, covertly, there are consistent messages about aggression, as reflection upon a series of Silk Cut ad would indicate.   Some thumbnails of other ads in this lengthy series are reproduced below. These are linked to larger versions should you wish to view them. Together with the additional ads discussed on this page, they present a potent reminder of how the continued presentation of ideas and Click for a larger, floating, image.  Silk cut ad with implications of Hitchcock's shower scene.associations may unconsciously build up Click for a larger, floating, image. Ad from the American Association of Advertising Agencies featuring 'faces'. impressions that differ markedly from the notions consciously associated with a single ad.      

Sometimes the aggression that is indicated is self aggression.   Sometimes aggressive acts in general.  With some ads there is an indication of aggression against the male, sometimes the female.   There is also a strong association with 'sexuality' or, more Extract from Silk Cut ad with slash.precisely, with those aspects of human anatomy that are used to perform the sexual act (and other activities). Take a look at the extract on the right. When you looked at the illustration up above you undoubtedly simply noticed a piece of silk with a slash in it. The word slash is used intentionally because it is more appropriate to the nature of Silk Cut ads than the word tear (see Words and Slang for other interesting visual interpretations of colloquial slang).

When you looked at the extract on the right you most likely did not notice that the silk cloth was arranged in such a manner that it offers the appearance of a face. The slash cuts across the mouth and something is protruding out of the mouth, or has been inserted into it - and then cut off. Often such images are easier to perceive within the context of the whole ad rather than in isolation. So have another look at the main image up above and see if you can still perceive the face there. It will probably 'stand out' quite easily once you have determined its location.

The ad with which this section began is just as much about aggression as the ad with the Click for a larger, floating, image.  Silk Cut ad with 'flower'. slash. Although it was presented in conjunction with a discussion of the brand name as a rebus, it also presents a message focussing on aggression against females.   The 'burn' mark in the silk that is noted by some observors is more accurately viewed as a flower head, something like a daisy.  A burn mark from a cigarette, or even a car cigarette lighter, would not produce such a neat shape, nor leave the central area untouched.   If this is a 'daisy', the ad is not primarily intending to trigger thoughts related to the Buds of May. Whatever else the ad may be promoting, it is also 'encouraging' aggressive penetration. The covert message concerns the 'deflowering' of women. 

Taken on its own such an interpretation of this ad is difficult to accept.  However, consider the connotations of the other ads discussed on this page (and any other Silk Cut ads you can lay your hands on) and then return to view the 'daisy' ad.  Look also for any semi-subliminal content. The meaning associated with the ads above will then seem much clearer - and the author's interpretation more accurate.

Silk Cut can can scissor ad.Here is a third Silk Cut indicating aggression. Superficially it does no more than 'dress' up some pairs of scissors as Parisian Can-Can girls. But just think, fellows, what would happen to you if the legs of these girls really were scissors. The unkindest cut of all would never be necessary. These Can-Can scissors are aggressive and out to emasculate any male smoker who gets in their way. Note that one poor man has already lost his pride and joy although he might have retained the family jewels. To determine what I am alluding to look at the uppermost gap between the 2nd and 3rd scissors from the left. There you will see the disconsolate face of that individual. Across his face (as well as forming part of his face) is a distinctly phallic shape. As with the face in the ad above, it is difficult to imagine such an arrangement of silk coming about by chance.

Link to top of page

hline.jpg (2424 bytes)


animated scissorsA Zip in Time

Silk Cut ad: Zip eating plantThis carnivorous plant has just ripped a zip from someone's trousers.   What is really at issue, however, is what lies behind the zip.   If this 'fly eating plant' has the power to rip off a zip, just imagine what happened to the clitoris or penis that lay behind it.   It doesn't bear thinking about.

Have another cig boys and girls or, better still, give up smoking and find a better way to manage your emotions. Additionally, remember that smoking can lead to impotence.

Link to top of page

hline.jpg (2424 bytes)


animated scissorsCutting Edge

Scissors on trial: Silk Cut ad This ad, unlike the Zip eating plant and those below, is not self explanatory at this resolution (and I don't have a copy handy in order to produce a larger version).  But there is the almost obligatory message about cutting and silk. A less obvious message is conveyed by a small, 'erect', piece of purple cloth.   This has been cut off.  Taken in the context of numerous Silk Cut ads that convey essentially the same message, the small piece of cloth is indicative of castration.   But it would not be a neat, pain free, clinical job that was carried out.  Nope, it would be with a pair of shears (probably blunt at that). 

The original version of this ad literally placed the scissors in the dock (parodying the judgments of society on cigarette smoking).  The illustration shown above was actually the first of three separate images.  The first image was the line up.  The second, the photograph for the official record, the frontal view with prison number underneath.  The third was the side view. 

This is pretty nifty stuff, until you realise that the individuals being locked-up are, in fact, those who have become addicted to nicotine.  Those who are laughing up their sleeves are the tobacco companies and their advertising agencies.

If you think Silk Cut cigarettes are the ideal cigarette, then you probably have a lot of unresolved anxiety to cope with. That isn't surprising, given the amount of effort put into cigarette advertising that has the simple goal of engendering anxiety in those who view the ads.    The best way to cure that anxiety would be to give up cigarettes altogether.    It ain't easy but it will be worth it - especially if you send a letter to the tobacco company afterwards telling them you intend to see that they pay for their attempts to 'brainwash' you.

Link to top of page

hline.jpg (2424 bytes)


animated scissorsA Slice in Time

Click for a larger, floating, image.  If you see a queue of individuals 'curling up' outside a toilet a reasonable presumption would be that they were desperately in need of 'relief'.   This ad would therefore seem to be a humorous visual play upon this notion. 

But this ad only offers a superficial reading of 'relief'. Take a closer look at the doorway sign on the larger version linked to this image. You will not see any of the universal symbols for male or female toilets.  You will see a knife.   The poor 'individuals' standing desperately with their 'legs crossed' are going to be castrated.  At best, this ad is yet another example of the 'unkindest' cut of all. Silk Cut smokers, think what you have been exposed to over the years you were encouraged to become addicted. Contemplate how such ads might have insinuated themselves into your thinking and affected you. Bear in mind equivalent messages have been portrayed in various guises in virtually all Silk Cut ads for many years. If you claim, as would all other Silk Cut smokers, that you were immune to such covert messages why were they the basis of an extremely lengthy advertising campaign? Was all this creative activity in vain? I doubt it. Some sizeable number of individuals were responsive to such ads to make them commercially worthwhile.

Note also that the images displayed on this ad seem to be toothpaste tubes. Look a little bit closer however and you will see that they are also indicative of elongated pawns from a game of chess (no tootpaste tube has a top such as illustrated) or individuals dressed up a pawns. Now, just one guess as to who the creative artists who produced this ad thought were the pawns in the Smoking Game? If you get this far you might even consider the 'packaging' of the pawns as just one step removed from the permanent packaging provided by body bags.

Animated divider.

hline.jpg (2424 bytes)

For additional commentary on Silk Cut ads read the article by Catherine R. Langan and view the paper Eros to Thanatos - Cigarette Ads, written by Alastair McIntosh. Both author's provide very interesting reading and food for thought, particularly Alastair McIntosh. The page devoted to the relationship between Freud, Wilson Key and advertising on this site also provides additional commentary on this topic.

Link to top of page


No smoking sign.Future Developments

Would you be interested in supporting the development of a web site focussing specifically on cigarette advertising, smoking behaviour, nicotine addiction and related information? In particular would you like to help encourage youngsters to develop a healthy scepticism about advertising practices associated with cigarette advertising and promotion? If you can offer either financial assistance to develop such a site or have material available that could be of use on such a site, the author would be pleased if you would contact him.






Link to previous pageLink to top of pageLink to Alternative Site  Menu offering some additional information about each page and its contents.

Commentary and information about any of the ads or requests on this Web site can be sent by e-mail to the Webmaster

To the best of the author's knowledge none of the illustrations, in the format used on this site, are subject to copyright. If copyright has been inadvertently breached please contact the author in order to rectify the matter. All brands and logos referred to or illustrated on this site are the property of the relevant companies and copyright holders. However, commentary and other information produced by the author can be freely copied and distributed. Similarly, illustrations of ads, so long as they are accompanied by commentary or are presented in the form of parody, can also be copied and distributed but please acknowledge as the source. Translation of tobacco company ads and relevant commentary into languages other than English will be particularly welcomed.

Last Revised: 3rd January, 2003


Utility animation