The new model for Camel cigarettes stares out over the rim of a martini glass, and her lipstick-coated lips are slightly parted. On the wood table she leans over, the glass has left a watermark shaped like a camel.
Doesn’t look familiar? That’s no surprise.
Thursday, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. announced it was dealing a death blow to Joe Camel, the famously playful cartoon character who has long drawn the ire of smoking critics. The campaign is being replaced with one called, “What you’re looking for.”
The sweeping move by Reynolds helps the company blindside critics who have long charged that the cartoon’s depictions of a laughing camel dressed in flashy jackets playing the saxophone, or behind the wheel of a limousine, surrounded by beautiful women, induced children to smoke - a charge the company strongly denies.
The new campaign “appeals to smokers of the ‘90s and the year 2000,” said Maura Ellis, a spokeswoman at R.J. Reynolds. “It looks timely. Variety is the spice of life - every campaign needs to stay different and new.”
The change also eases certain regulatory pressures on the company. The Federal Trade Commission had recently issued a complaint against the ads, and, if last month’s negotiated tobacco settlement becomes law, the company would have to drop Joe Camel anyway.
The news of Joe Camel’s demise was welcomed by health groups and tobacco critics.
“This step is long overdue,” President Clinton said during his visit to Poland Thursday. “We must put tobacco ads like Joe Camel out of our children’s reach forever. I am glad RJR has finally taken this step today, and I hope other companies will follow suit.”
R.J. Reynolds dismissed the possibility that the new campaign could conceivably appeal to children.
“I don’t think critics can say that this campaign targets kids in any way,” Ellis said. “The issue they have raised is against Joe Camel - and that issue is gone.”
The new campaign drew praise from Bob Garfield, an advertising critic and editor-at-large at Advertising Age magazine, who predicted it could take the brand to new heights.
“It is great advertising,” he said. “It is very inventive, stylish, compelling advertising.”
“They’ve got a camel,” he said. “Only when they turned it into a cartoon did they behave shamefully. There’s no reason why they shouldn’t use that icon for all it is worth.”
The “What you’re looking for” campaign will be launched on billboards this week and hit magazines in August. Other depictions, Ellis said, include exhaled smoke that takes the form of a camel and a cigarette lighter that is shaped like a camel.
The company will no longer run the Joe Camel ad in magazines, and will gradually phase out the character in retail settings and on caps and T-shirts.
“There’s 300,000-plus retail stores,” Ellis said, when asked when the Joe Camel campaign will completely vanish from the American landscape. “It’s hard to say, ‘by this one day everything will be gone.’ “