THE JACK BENNY PROGRAM AND LUCKY STRIKES 
 

The American Tobacco Company took over the sponsorship of “The Jack Benny Program” from Grape Nuts Flakes as of the October 1, 1944 season opener.  While accounts of old-time radio and advertising history note that the “Pall Mall” brand of cigarettes was going to be the sponsorship focus originally, it would instead be the “Lucky Strike” brand that would lend its name to the show. 

The Lucky Strikes commercial at the beginning of the program was done in New York, while the main body of the program was done in Hollywood. The original “Lucky Strike” commercial announcers as of the initial October 1944 shows were Kenny Delmar, Del Sharbutt, Basil Ruysdael, and the auctioneer Lee Aubrey (Speed) Riggs.  Yes, it took four people to deliver a barely-over-one-minute-long commercial. The auctioneer would do his auction spiel, always ending with “sold, American!” or just “American”. The focus was on repetition of the main talking points that the American Tobacco Company wanted to target, especially the “LS-MFT” tagline, which stood for “Lucky Strikes Means Fine Tobacco”. The other slogan was “so round, so firm, so fully packed—so free and easy on the draw”.  Both of these slogans were always repeated at least twice in the opening commercial.  Emphasis was also placed on the high quality of the tobacco purchased at auction, used to manufacture Lucky Strikes.   
 

THE FIRST SEASON OF SPONSORSHIP: 1944-45 

The American Tobacco Company welcomed their new show with a memo dated June 23, 1944, confirming the contract between the company and Benny dated April 10, 1944.  The memo states that "during the broadcast year of 1944-1945, the program shall be broadcast from 7:00-7:30pm current new York time, over a nation-wide hook up, with a rebroadcast by transcription between 12;30-1:00am current New York time..".

On September 20, 1944, the company issued a memo from Vincent Riggio, the Vice-President,  to the entire sales organization:

Beginning on October 1, LUCKY STRIKE is proud to present Jack Benny, the greatest entertainer of them all. The kindly humor and gentlemanly approach of Jack himself---the irrepressible Mary Livingstone---Phil Harris---Rochester---Don Wilson---known and loved by radio listeners everywhere---a quality program of good clean fun for everyone......Jack Benny's return to the air each Fall is eagerly awaited by the radio audience.  Jack Benny has just returned from the South Pacific where he has been entertaining the boys of all the services.  This year, more than ever, we welcome Jack back---with a vote of thanks for the splendid contribution he has made to the morale of our boys overseas by bringing them a word of cheer and a good laugh.  LUCKY STRIKE is happy to bring Jack Benny, the favorite guest in American homes, to the radio audience.  Listen to the Jack Benny program every Sunday.  Tell your friends to listen when Jack Benny, the greatest entertainer of them all, brings you your favorite program for LUCKY STRIKE---the cigarette that means fine tobacco. Yes, LUCKY STRIKE MEANS FINE TOBACCO---SO ROUND, SO FIRM, SO FULLY PACKED---SO FREE AND EASY ON THE DRAW.

The words of the introductory commercial would vary, but here’s a good example of a program opening, from a script of the October 15, 1944 episode, the third program of the season.  Note the extreme repetition on the main themes: 

          Delmar: The Jack Benny Benny program!

          Riggs: (chant—sold American)

          Sharbutt:  Lucky Strike means fine tobacco---so round, so firm, so fully packed, so free and easy on the draw!

          (Sound of a)Ticker: 2 & 3, 2 & 3

          Ruysdael:  LS-MFT, LS-MFT, LS-MFT

          Delmar: Of course!

          Ruysdael: Right you are!

          Sharbutt: Yes sir!

          Delmar: Lucky Strike means fine tobacco---so round, so firm, so fully packed, so free and easy on the draw! 

This would be alternated with one that added another Lucky Strike slogan, “quality of product is essential to continuing  success” (which you think would be self-evident, as lousy products tend not to stay on the market too long). 

Jack Benny Show announcer Don Wilson would almost always manage to somehow work the “LS-MFT” slogan into the mid-show commercial. As of the 1946-1947 season, singing group The Sportsman Quartet were added to spice up the mid-show commercial, often using a song parody to sing the praises of Lucky Strikes.

Amazingly, even though it would seem impossible, the American Tobacco Company commercials could, and would, get even more repetitive. Which was, after all, somewhat of their goal--to get their catchphrases stuck in your head. How many people it irritated and turned off, though, is unknown. Several contemporary newspaper articles do mention the extremely annoying constant repetition of the Amercian Tobacco ads. Here is an example, from the March 3, 1946 Jack Benny episode:


          Delmar:   Excuse me, this is Kenny Delmar. Excuse me, I have a special announcement to make. Herbert Tareyton Cigarettes are back--good news for those who prefer a cork tipped                       cigarette! Herbert Tareyton is back and---there's something about them you'll like. Herbert Tareyton is back after being made only for the armed forces. Yes, Herbert Tareyton is                             back---that  cork tipped cigarette, Herbert Tareyton---available now for you. Yes, Herbert Tareyton is back---and remember: There's something about them you'll like! There's something            about them you'll like! This is Kenny Delmar---I trust you will welcome home Herbert Tareyton! There's something about them you'll like.


Think they may be trying to tell us they're back, and there's something about them we'll like? It's insanely repetitive....almost like the speech pattern used when talking to a baby.


 

THE 1946-1947 SEASON 

On August 30, 1946, S.L. Weaver JR sent a memo to American Tobacco Company President George Washington Hill, which dealt mainly with the transfer of the advertising to the agency of Foote, Cone and Belding.  However, there are some interesting comments concerning the Jack Benny program contained in the memo.  Under the heading "Programs", it states:

The transfer of all details of the Jack Benny show to Foote, Cone & Belding is in progress.  Benny himself has been notified of the change of agency and had no comment to make, since it was not in "his court", except to hope that he would be able to retain the services of his producer, Bob Ballin.  Emerson will see Ballin next week and I am quite sure that he will be able to hire Ballin for the Benny program.

Later in the memo it hints at a problem with Benny show commercial announcer Kenny Delmar:

Andre Baruch we believe is doing an excellent job and would of course like to stay on the program.  We have had no success in attempting to reach Kenneth Delmar, who has not yet replied to our notification of extension of his commercial contracts on Jack Benny and the "Hit Parade".  At the present time, although we all like Delmar's work very much, we are concerned over his failure to respond and over the tendency so evident last year for Delmar's becoming "too important" for the services he performs for us.  We would like to have Delmar back if he wanted to come back and would do a good job for us.  Unless we are satisfied that this will be the case, we would not like to lose Andre Baruch.  This matter will come to a head next week, but we believe we can await your return before making a final decision.

Things did come to a head.  In another memo sent to George W. Hill,  dated two weeks later (September 12, 1946), S.L. Weaver Jr. wrote:

 "Thank you for your wire about Kenneth Delmar, who has been released. We see eye to eye in this matter, and I know that Andre Baruch will break his back to continue giving us a finished performance".

Delmar's contract expired on September 11, 1946, the day before the above memo was written; the contract was not renewed.  The Company apparently felt that Kenny Delmar's recent popularity on the Fred Allen radio show portraying the "Senator Claghorn" had gone to his head.

 

    From this 1946-47 season, here is a good example of how the opening commercial went, from the October 6, 1946 program. The slogans had become even more repetitious, believe it or not, including ten uses of the word “fine”. 

    Baruch:  The Jack Benny program—presented by Lucky Strike

    Ruysdael: Quality of product is essential to continuing success.

    Boone:  (chant—58 to 60- American)

    Sims: Lucky Strike means fine tobacco—so round, so firm, so fully packed, so free and easy on the draw.

    Ticker:  (2 & 3, 2 & 3)

    Ruysdael:  LS-MFT, LS-MFT, LS-MFT

    Sims: Right you are!

    Baruch:  Yes sir!

    Sims: Lucky Strike means fine tobacco and fine tobacco means real, deep-down enjoyment for you.

    Baruch: Yes, it takes fine tobacco to make a fine cigarette, and year after year, at market after market, the makers of Lucky Strike consistently select and buy that fine, that light, that naturally mild tobacco.

    Ruysdael: Fine, light, naturally mild tobacco. Yes, Lucky Strike means fine tobacco and fine tobacco means real, deep-down smoking enjoyment for you---so smoke that smoke of fine tobacco—Lucky Strike—so round, so firm, so fully packed, so free and easy on the draw

    Riggs:   (Chant—58 to 60—American) 
     
     

THE 1946 “FORMULA” MEMO 

In a memo effective as of the program of September 29, 1946, the American Tobacco Company put together a “formula” to strategize for the coming 1946-1947 Jack Benny Show season.  It began, somewhat ungrammatically, “The American Tobacco Company always knows its objective in advertising---where it is going---OR IT DON’T”.  This is a fascinating memo that affords a “Mad Men” type look “behind the scenes” into the advertising process for cigarettes in the mid-1940’s.   It’s interesting how powerful a notion repetition plays, and how many times “sincerity” is noted. The memo lays out the strategy behind the Opening Commercial, Middle Commercial, and Closing Commercial of the Jack Benny Program.  I’d like to quote from some different aspects of the memo below. All parts in (  blue  ) below are direct quotes from the memo. I’ve kept all the original capitalization and underlined words as used in the memo. 

The memo lists the company’s objectives for the Fall-Winter season 1946-1947, as quoted: 

  • to convincingly sell every listener the fact that Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco
  • to re-iterate by concentrated repetition this basic fact---Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco
  • to forcefully and sincerely emphasize quality Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco
 

We will achieve this objective!:

  By repetition of this all-powerful sales fact—Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco!

  By repetition of our four sincere, convincing rhythmic reasons why:

      1.  Lucky Strike means fine tobacco, so round, so firm, so fully packed, so free and easy on

                    the draw.

    2.  Lucky Strike means fine tobacco. (S0) for your own real, deep-down smoking   

         enjoyment smoke that smoke of fine tobacco—Lucky Strike

    3.  Lucky Strike means fine tobacco. And in a cigarette it’s the tobacco that counts.

      4.  Lucky Strike means fine tobacco. So smoke that smoke of fine tobacco---Lucky Strike. 

“The Opening Commercial” 

The opening commercial is presented without theme immediately before the start of The Jack Benny Program….the purpose of the Opening Commercial is to sell Lucky Strike cigarettes. To achieve this aim this commercial must quickly identify the product-emphasize the quality-and then sincerely and convincingly state the “reason why” the listener should smoke Lucky Strike cigarettes…..the Opening Commercial is divided into two parts: (1) repetition of selling phrases and (2) “the hard sell”.  In both of these parts we take full advantage of our four powerful “rhythmic reasons why”. 

PART ONE:  Our basic selling story (Lucky Strike means Fine Tobacco) is effectively presented by utilizing these five dramatic, audible Lucky Strike trademarks:

1.  The Chant of the tobacco auctioneer which is the symbol of Lucky Strike on the air.

2.  The quality statement—“Quality of Product is Essential to Continuing Success”.

3.  Use of the forceful selling phrase “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco”.

4.  The attention-getting device of the ticker and LS-MFT.

5.  The exclamatory agreement—Of course! Right you are! Etc 

PART TWO:  The “hard sell” portion of the Opening Commercial is varied from week to week. Two basic compelling sales approaches will be alternated on successive weeks.

1. Fine Tobacco.     The “reason why” sell in this type of commercial is based on the fact that year after year, the makers of Lucky Strike consistently select and buy that fine, that light, that naturally mild tobacco, proving that Lucky Strike means fine tobacco.

2. Auction.    This particular type of commercial simplifies and generalizes the testimonial story by utilizing “independent tobacco experts” collectively as the reason why Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco.  The chant of the tobacco auctioneer follows either of the above sales approaches. 

SPECIAL INSTRUCTIONS:

1.  The opening commercial will originate in New York regardless of the organization point of the entertainment portion of The Jack Benny Program.

2.  The Jack Benny program will be introduced “cold” without orchestra theme or fanfare, using on alternate weeks introductory phrase “The Jack Benny program” or “The Jack Benny Program presented by Lucky Strike” and followed by the Opening Commercial.

3.  Baruch always delivers this introductory line

4. Ruysdael always delivers the “Quality of Product” line and LS-MFT’s following the ticker.

5.  The Opening Commercial always includes one of the approved Exclamations. An approved three-line Exclamation is used one week and approved two-line Exclamation the next week.

6.  At conclusion of Opening Commercial, program is automatically switched to Hollywood or origination point of Jack Benny program.

7.  All three announcers—Ruysdael, Baruch and Sims are to be used in this commercial.

8.  The auctioneers are alternated in this commercial.

9. Time of Opening Commercial should be under 1:15. 
 

“The Middle Commercial” 

The middle commercial is to be handled by Jack Benny in his usual adroit style.  It will be worked in as part of the program at the discretion of Benny.

1. Purpose:  The purpose of this commercial is to present Benny as a salesman, forcefully complete the LS-MFT play (Tinkers to Evers to Chance).

2. Elements of Commercial.  This commercial can be handled humorously or seriously—at the discretion of Jack Benny. The various selling phrases, slogans, and identification sounds may be treated humorously if Benny so desires. The only restrictions imposed are: 1. Whenever the words “Luckies”, “Lucky Strike” or “Lucky Strike Means Fine Tobacco” are used, they must be handled in a serious vein. Currently there is to be no reference to “It’s Toasted” or the toasting process.

Special Instructions: It should be our aim to encourage Benny to make the ball “smack right into the mitt” with his use of LS-MFT. 

“The Closing Commercial” 

The Closing Commercial comes just before the conclusion of the program.  It is spaced to give Jack Benny time to return for a farewell spot.  Don Wilson switches the program to New York with a friendly line introducing either the auctioneer or first announcer or both.

If Jack Benny delivers a serious message immediately preceding the Closing Commercial there should be a musical bridge of sufficient length to change the mood before the New York announcer or auctioneer is introduced. (Note instructions given by Mr. Benny to Mr. Ballin) 

Special Instructions:

1.  The chant of the tobacco auctioneer must be used at least once in this commercial.

2.  The first line of the copy block following the testimonial should alternate a “quote” one week and “refer-back” the next.

3.  Name credit is given to both auctioneers to establish authenticity.

4.  Ruysdael always announces the credit line of auctioneers used on the program.

5.   All three announcers—Ruysdael, Baruch and Sims, are to be used on the program.

6.  Ruysdael always announces the LS-MFT’s wherever and wherever used.

7.  Impulse tags are to be selected from the approved list—carefully selected not only for variety and the greatest “sell” but are carefully chosen to tie the commercial into a compete unit.

8.  The final words of the closing commercial are always one of the approved Impulse Tags.

9.  Closing Commercial time should be 1;15 or under. 

Jack Benny Sign-Off 

After the Closing Commercial the program is returned to Jack Benny in Hollywood for a final farewell. It is desirable to elongate this closing spot by Benny so that the commercial time for Lucky Strike closing commercial may be protected. Benny is notably an artist who is inclined to overstay his time, and if care is not exercised, the final commercial may be clipped (Note instructions given to Mr. Benny to Mr. Ballin). 
 
 

Covering all of the bases, the memo also gives examples of a commercial for Don Wilson to use in case of a New York to Chicago line drop, a commercial for Don Wilson to use in case of a West Coast to Chicago line drop, and a closing commercial to use in the event of a New York to Chicago line drop at the opening of the show but not at the closing. Also given are examples of commercials to use when Thomas Ray Oglesby of Winterville, North Carolina substitutes as the auctioneer for either F.E. Boone or LA (Speed) Riggs.

In my opinion, while the "Lucky Strike" years could be considered the high water-mark of the Benny radio program, the Lucky Strike commercials pale in comparison to the Don Wilson Jell-O (or Grape Nuts Flakes) commercials.  The Sportsmen Quartet were frequently funny, but having Don do each Jell-O plug by himself gave the show a more homespun feeling than the corporate "shill"-ness of the LSMFT tobacco auctioneers.   American Tobacco wielded a much heavier hand and tighter control than General Foods/Jell-O did, and of course the mind-numbing repetition of the Lucky Strike slogans becomes wearying after a short while.  In a minor side point, The Lucky Strike commercials make it harder to re-broadcast the radio episodes on media that disallow tobacco advertising.