In the vast, incomprehensible world of American advertisement, thousands upon thousands of unique brands and logos are lost in the overcomplicated jumble and never become as recognizable as others.
One product that has never seemed to suffer from this lack of a specific identity is Morley Cigarettes. With their white-and-red boxes, ambiguously European family crest ornament, and selling claim that “More doctors smoke Morleys than any other cigarette,” this brand has definitely stood the test of time in terms of its ability to remain consistently recognizable throughout the years.
This may very well be because Morley Cigarettes never actually existed.
The first major appearance of this very-nonexistent brand was in none other than Alfred Hitchcock’s iconic 1960 film Psycho, in which Simon Oakland’s character is seen shaking a single Morley out of a pack. No attention is drawn to the fictional cigarette within the narrative of Psycho, and neither was any explanation given behind the scenes as to the origins of the brand.
Although Psycho is often considered the first appearance of Morley Cigarettes, it has been noted that, since no one has taken credit for the creation of the brand, there is every possibility that the tradition of using that name in place of a real-life cigarette extends even farther back than 1960.
However, citing Hitchcock’s world-renowned film as the beginning of this silent, fifty-year running joke would certainly be fair, as following the release of Psycho, Morley Cigarettes began appearing in hundreds of films, television shows, books, and other forms of media. Some of the highest-profile appearances of Morley Cigarettes can be spotted in The X-Files, Breaking Bad, Friends, LOST, The Twilight Zone, and The Walking Dead.
One may wonder exactly what is the purpose in such a long-running inside joke? Why would thousands of filmmakers and screenwriters slip the same fictional brand into their totally separate fictional worlds? The best answer to this would be a resounding “No reason.”
Morley Cigarettes function almost as little purpose as an icon of the film and television industry as they do actual cigarettes. Despite appearing in thousands of films and TV shows throughout the past fifty years, the Morley brand is nothing more than a glorified running joke through countless cinematic universes.
One of the charms of a running joke such as this is that very few are actually aware that it exists. If any ordinary American were to hear the name “Morley Cigarettes,” they would likely assume it denoted nothing more than a brand of which they were not previously aware. Only a select few know the truth about Morley Cigarettes and even less know the details of their existence, or lack thereof.
Occasionally, the presence of Morley Cigarettes will be recognized within a film or series, although the characters never reference the brand’s nonexistence in the real world, as doing so would cause a break in the fourth wall. For instance, in an episode of the popular American science fiction series The X-Files, leading characters Fox Mulder and Dana Scully are sent to investigate the mysterious death of a Morley Tobacco employee and discover that the corporation has been using alien biology to enhance the addictive nature of their product.
In this instance, the fictional Morley cigarettes company is used as cover for a storyline with which no real tobacco distributor would want to be associated. The producers of The X-Files figured that neither Marlboro, Old Gold, or any other cigarette company would condone their product being associated with the negative connotations of alien biology, and thus created their own made-up brand to fit the role; it just so happened that there already existed a named cigarette that had been used in countless series and films before The X-Files.
Although Morley cigarettes are not associated with any existing brand, their packaging and in-world advertisements are heavily based on Marlboros, one of the most popular real-life brands. In fact, even the name — Morley — is a vertical derivative of the slang term for Marlboros: Marleys. Additionally, the iconic Marlboro packaging is emulated in that of its fictional counterpart. In most post-Psycho appearances, Morley boxes are white with a red top, decorated with the Crest of Great Britain. They look so similar to Marlboro boxes that, if someone had an idea to produce Morleys in real life, they would no doubt be under fire for patent infringement.
The existence of a fictional brand that spans more than two hundred different films, TV shows, and other forms of media may be news to anyone who doesn’t happen to work in Hollywood. But even more surprisingly, Morley cigarettes are not the only name brand to appear onscreen, but never in real life. For instance, the Google-inspired search engine Finder-Spyder is used all across television, most notably in Breaking Bad, Weeds, and The X-Files. Another of these companies that won’t be seen in our world is Oceanic Airlines, the go-to plane service when a crash or other accident is called for, most specifically in ABC dramas LOST and Fringe.
Although very few American consumers are aware of this host of fictional companies that spans across various forms of media, those that are aware can look on the existence of such made-up brands as proof that, although films, television shows, books, and other works of fiction are separated by any number of factors, they are all created by human being with similar ideas, ideals, and dreams.