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
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
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.