R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. has launched another edgy marketing campaign for Camel cigarettes, this time having the iconic mascot visiting nine trendy U.S. destinations before coming home to Winston-Salem.
Predictably, the campaign has drawn the ire of the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, which tends to accuse Reynolds of trying to appeal to youth in its advertising, and health officials in at least one of the cities.
The campaign also is being criticized for using well-known images of the 10 destinations behind the Camel logo. The “Break free adventure” campaign is found at camel.tobaccopleasure.com — an age-restricted and password-protected website.
Reynolds plans to begin distributing packs bearing the images nationally in December and January.
The 10-week contest asks participants to guess where the mascot is visiting, with prizes for the winners. Among the revealed destinations are Las Vegas; Austin, Texas; and the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn.
The common themes for the destinations are independent or “indie” rock music and freedom of the road.
The Winston-Salem pack has a tobacco field in the foreground and the city skyline in the background — with the former R.J. Reynolds headquarters accentuated.
The text reads: “The start of it all: About 100 years ago, Camel stuck its stake in the ground and forever changed a sleepy Southern town called Winston-Salem. It’s the birthplace, the workplace, the party place and the crash pad. It’s where the break-free journey stops, but never ends.”
“We chose these destinations because they are places that are culturally unique and with entertainment popular with adults,” spokesman David Howard said.
Matthew Myers, the president of the anti-smoking group, likened the contest to past controversial Reynolds campaigns, such as Joe Camel and Camel No. 9.
“The new campaign cynically uses the names and images of trendy U.S. destinations … in an attempt to make Camel cigarettes cool again,” Myers said.
“It is deeply disturbing that RJR is using the good name and hard-earned reputation of these great American cities to market deadly and addictive cigarettes, especially in a way that blatantly appeals to children.”
Myers urged Reynolds to stop the campaign immediately. He suggested that state attorneys general investigate it to see if it violates the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement.
In December 2007, Reynolds voluntarily stopped promotions for a Camel marketing campaign aimed at adult listeners of independent rock music.
That decision came a day after Reynolds was sued by nine state attorneys general — not including North Carolina — over ads for Camel cigarettes that ran in Rolling Stone magazine. The magazine ran four pages of Camel ads as bookends to five pages about independent “or indie” rock music that had cartoon images.
Howard said that any accusation Reynolds is appealing to youth with the campaign “is untrue and unfounded.” He cited the age-restricted website and the destinations, which include Seattle, San Francisco, Sturgis, S.D., the site of annual motorcycle gathering, Route 66 and the Bonneville Salt Flats of Utah.
“We have no reason to back down from this promotion because the promotion is clearly directed at adult tobacco consumers,” he said.
By Richard Craver