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Malaysia: Camel tourism trick
  1. David Simpson
  1. d.simpson{at}

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    In May, readers of the New Sunday Times were confronted with an advertisement for a contest involving what the advertiser called Camel active fashion products. It was supported by the South African tourism board, presumably on the basis that would-be Malaysian macho-men would be tempted to come on down to South Africa, Camel cigarette cartons in hand, to enjoy a rip-roaring holiday in its wide open spaces.

    Liaison between Malaysian and South African health advocates resulted in correspondence with the tourism board, explaining the tobacco industry’s—and particularly Camel’s—history of brand-stretching. In a throw-back to the more innocent 1980s, the tourist people replied that the Camel being advertised in the ad was a brand of clothing, not cigarettes. They nearly coined the term rand-stretching—the country’s currency is the rand—saying, “…to stretch the rand as it were, we also explore opportunities for collaboration with projects/services that are reflective of our destination-offer and remain true to the lifestyle preferences of our target consumers.” So they do want the macho-men.

    Despite presenting copious evidence drawn from tobacco industry documents of the intentions of Camel brand-stretching, health advocates began to wonder whether anything would make the CEO of the South African tourism board see the light. Their evidence included a seven page letter from an advertising agency in 1980 to a senior RJ Reynolds Tobacco (RJR) executive, urging his firm to spend $520 000 (worth considerably more today) to support the autumn Camel Collection clothing range. Among the reasons was that it would “maximize the relationship between the CAMEL collection and the CAMEL Way of Life as expressed in the new CAMEL Family advertising which will break in September weeklies.”

    And in 1983, RJR produced a 262-page promotion training manual showing that the link was still flourishing. One section described the CAMEL Prime Prospect: “Independent – Exciting – Adventurous – Pleasure-Seeking – Somewhat Upscale – Age: 18–24”. Trainees were told that merchandise items must be “in line with CAMEL’s user imagery, items that the CAMEL man would readily wear or use. They should be high quality, have long-term appeal and not be overly ‘trendy’. Prime Prospect: – Younger adult male (18–24 years). Independent, adventurous, masculine, pleasure-oriented lifestyle. – A leader among men with traditional/conservative values.”

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    Advertisement appearing in a Malaysian newspaper for a contest involving “Camel active fashion products”, which was supported by the South African tourist board.

    While RJR’s non-US operations are now owned by Japan Tobacco, it is hard to think that the sales force has forgotten the link. Presumably when a company buys an international brand that has relied on brand-stretching to target certain markets, the arrangement, however convoluted to try to avoid health legislation, does not simply evaporate, but is there to be used by the new owner. South African tourism officials, please note.