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Among the more serious and depressing developments recently in the home country of multinational companies claiming to now be socially responsible, has been the introduction of new designs, with massive associated promotion, for Camel cigarettes. While public health workers strongly criticised RJ Reynolds (RJR) for introducing a new version of its brand that was clearly aimed at young women, financial analysts were falling over themselves to applaud the move for what they considered its potential for commercial success. The new brand, Camel No 9, was launched with a promotional campaign estimated to cost $25–50 million. The name was described by RJR marketing executives as meant to evoke happiness – being “on cloud nine” - or the heights of style and fashion – being “dressed to the nines”. Others cited in media coverage of the launch thought it might also suggest luxury perfumes such as Chanel No 9, or romantic songs such as “Love Potion No 9”.
Advertisements for the brand—“reaching out to women,” as media writers prefer to put it—included the use of slogans such as, “light and luscious”. Colours used to adorn and promote the new brand were described by media commentators as “hot pink” and “minty-green”.
It seems that RJR may be doing in reverse what Philip Morris did decades ago when it changed the gender limitations of Marlboro, originally a women’s brand, to make it as macho as the cowboy from which it later became inseparable. Conversely, Camel has been a male-focused cigarette for decades, with women only representing about 30 per cent of its customers. But women comprise up to a half of the customers for competing brands such as Marlboro and Newport. Almost half of US adult smokers are women, limiting Camel’s potential without adding female appeal.
RJR is to sponsor promotional events for the new brand in large markets around the country, and push the brand in a variety of other ways, such as handing out packs at nightclubs, discount coupons, and ads in women’s magazines including Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Flaunt, Vogue and W. Health advocates say the first two in particular will reach large numbers of young readers, and claim that RJR is looking for initiation by girls and young women.
Aiming tobacco ads at women is a well established strategy. Documents from the internal files of US tobacco companies indicate they studied female smoking habits through research projects with names including, “Tomorrow’s Female,” “Cosmo” and “Virile Female.” One of the most infamous moments in US marketing history was when Edward L Bernays, widely considered the father of public relations, alerted newspapers in the Spring of 1929 that women would be smoking in public during the Easter parade on Fifth Avenue, New York City, to promote “equality of the sexes”. He forgot to mention that he was paid for his “torches of freedom” effort by American Tobacco, the maker of Lucky Strike.
With the tragedy of incurable diseases caused by smoking being diagnosed among women every day in the USA, and the tens of thousands of future premature deaths of American women who already smoke, it is extraordinary that a campaign like this can still take place in 2007. But despite much progress and leadership by some states, the federal government has done little over the past half century. Women will still be lured by multi-million dollar campaigns to smoke their own new Camel, relishing the “light and luscious” associations and the pink girly colours; in the future, surgeons will just have to do their best with once pink organs so needlessly destroyed by smoking – and by a most cynical example of corporate social irresponsibility.