GLOBAL BRIEF: Tobacco brands grow up fast - Joe Camel is just the first fatality of the US tobacco backlash, John Owen says

When Joe Camel bit the dust after nine years as an icon for RJ Reynolds’ Camel cigarette brand in the US last week, it wasn’t just the anti-tobacco lobby that celebrated. Many in the advertising industry toasted his downfall too.

When Joe Camel bit the dust after nine years as an icon for RJ

Reynolds’ Camel cigarette brand in the US last week, it wasn’t just the

anti-tobacco lobby that celebrated. Many in the advertising industry

toasted his downfall too.



For many, the death sentence visited on Joe - sacrificed by his makers

on the altar of casualty diplomacy - has come too late. The campaign,

described in the US trade press last week as ’one of the most reviled in

ad history’, stands accused of provoking not only stringent statutory

restrictions on tobacco promotion, but, in the words of one commentator,

’the decimation of the tobacco industry worldwide’.



While this may be US-centric hyperbole, there is little doubt that the

priority behind such marketing strategies was short-term growth in

market share. The tobacco companies may be about to pay a long-term

price.



The problem with Joe was his appeal to children. Buoyed by his demise,

the US Government is stepping up calls for the voluntary withdrawal of

Marlboro Man. And it won’t stop there.



In September, Congress will consider last month’s dollars 360 billion

settlement with the tobacco industry which, if ratified, will mean the

end of not just icons, but also sponsored events, free merchandise,

outdoor and Internet advertising. All direct marketing will be

restricted to text, as would point-of-sale signage. No tobacco ads could

feature people.



Faced with a virtual black-out, the few openings cigarette companies

have to promote their brands will be crucial. Camel’s US agency,

Mezzina/Brown, has already come up with more subtle, adult versions of

the icon - blown in cigarette smoke by a beautiful woman, for instance -

in a series of print ads. Likewise, recent Marlboro ads have only hinted

at the Man’s presence.



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