CAMEL CIGARETTES -First Big Time Cigarette Campaign

. Tuesday, September 26, 2006
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ONE of the heartening things about doing this book has been the interested, all-out cooperation received from advertisers and agencies-none more heartening than that from my advertising alma mater, N. W. Ayer & Son. And none more enlightening than this story about the first big league advertiser of cigarettes, R. J. Reynolds Company. Here is the story of Camels as related to Ayer Vice President, Clarence L. Jordan by William M. Armistead, long dean of Ayer executives, who got and handled the Reynolds account for many years:
The Cigarette Industry - like so many industries in the early days of the 20th Century - began its development with sectional brands.
In the South-Atlantic States Piedmonts were a big seller -and down in New Orleans, Home Runs and Picayunes were popular. Fatimas were demanded in the East and Middle-Atlantic - and out in San Francisco they were selling a brand almost exclusively which had a "mouthpiece."
R. J. Reynolds, who had just completed overcoming sectional brands in a pipe tobacco - making Prince Albert a national seller - made up his mind to attempt the same thing in a cigarette.
After a long time in studying the various sectional brands, Mr. Reynolds decided he had perfected the proper blend for a national cigarette. He bought the name "CAMEL" from a small independent company in Philadelphia for $2,500.00.
Mr. Reynolds then said to Mr. Armistead, who handled the advertising account for N. W. Ayer & Son, that they were ready to proceed and offered him an appropriation of $250,000 to introduce the Camel brand.
This initial appropriation was refused, with the following statement: "While it is true that all of those around the Reynolds Tobacco Company who have tried the new cigarette think it is a great blend, some of them may have expressed that belief because they thought it would please you, Mr. Reynolds. If you spend a quarter million dollars on that cigarette - and the public does not like it - you will kill the brand, as well as lose a quarter million dollars. Public approval is the only way to test the product. If this cigarette will not sell without advertising - it certainly will not sell with advertising."
We then went on to recommend that one carton of Camel Cigarettes be distributed to each of 125 of the best retail stores in Cleveland, with the understanding that the carton be left on top of the counter -and figures furnished on repeat orders by stores.
The cigarette immediately began to repeat.
Then, the same system was tried out in other sections of the country where various sectional brands were being sold. Again and again, the product started to repeat without any advertising.
Based on this method of testing in all sections of the country, it became clear that this new blend could overcome sectional prejudices.
Then - and not until then - was advertising recommended to introduce the brand on a full-scale basis.
This introduction was done by Sales Divisions, of which there were 87 in the United States. Each Division Manager was instructed to notify the Home Office as soon as he had perfected a complete distribution in his area.
The advertising campaign started off with teaser copy in newspapers, approximately forty inches in size.
The first advertisement was a very simple teaser display - using the words "The Camels Are Coming."
The second advertisement featured the wording "Tonrorrou' There Fill Be More Carrels in This Town Than in Asia and Africa Combined."
The third advertisement stated "Camels Are Here," and proceeded to describe the brand.
From that point on, consistent newspaper space was used on a campaign which was built around the theme that Camel Cigarettes did not offer any premiums - such as were popular with most cigarettes at the time - because the cost of the tobaccos used in the Camel blend was too great to permit anything except the quality product itself.
That was the introductory period and - as could be expected - it stung competition into quick action.
Camels started moving rapidly in nearly all sections, except for New York City. That city had been left for the last. Sales there were controlled largely by the Metropolitan Tobacco Company, who had advised the R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company that if they would keep their salesmen out of New York City they would give them distribution in about 17,000 stores that were tops, in one week - just as soon as they were convinced the product would sell.
Reynolds agreed, and the last division opened was New York, through the Metropolitan Tobacco Company, using exactly the same technique - with advertising spreading to magazines and billboards, in addition to newspapers, but still using the same hard-selling theme.
Camels grew from 4th place to 1st place in five years, securing about 4057c of the entire cigarette business.
Naturally, competition switched its tactics from sectional sellers to national blends that could compete on a national basis with the success of Camels - and the big cigarette battle, which is still going on, got under way with millions of dollars of advertising being spent each year on each of the leading national brands.
An amusing incident developed one of the greatest slogans in this cigarette battle.
A sign painter was painting a billboard one day and a man walked up and asked him if he could give him a cigarette. The painter said "yes" and offered him a Camel. The stranger thanked him with enthusiasm, and said "I'd Walk A Mile For A Camel."
The sign painter was smart enough to report the incident as a suggestion for a billboard and from this incident grew one of the best and most familiar slogans in advertising.