Friday, November 28, 2008

Camel Cigarettes Remove Joe Camel 1997

Camel cigarettes have used Joe the Camel in the advertising for many years. In 1997 they removed him because competitors and others thought Joe was enticing young children to smoke.
Mr. Joseph Camel, the cartoon tobacco mascot, is currently facing charges by the feds that he has knowingly and with profit aforethought enticed children to smoke cigarettes. He is not accused of hooking kids in the manner of a playground pusher, however--he's never directly addressed children or been seen in their company. Rather, Mr. Camel, himself a habitual user of nicotine, has been accused of being way too cool, in much the way that Joseph K. was once accused by the authorities of being way too guilty. The very president of the United States has put the case in these terms--Joe Camel, declares Bill Clinton, tells minors that "smoking is cool." Now, this is a charge of considerable interest. For it to stick, "cool" must be perceived to be good, or else associating it with smoking wouldn't be so dangerous that the ads have to be banned. And Joe Camel must make smoking seem cool because of the life he leads, as suggested in the ads that feature him. So what does he do in these ads? Among other things, he plays in a blues band, shoots pool with his buddy camels, rides a big hoggish motorcycle (without a helmet), drives a flashy convertible (without fastening his seat belt), and otherwise does a whole lot of hanging out in graphically interesting settings. Mr. Camel is never seen doing any productive work of any kind, is never portrayed wearing bourgeois clothing of even the Casual Friday variety (he usually wears a leather jacket), and is never seen in the company of middle-class camels who have to work for a living.
For years, hundreds and maybe thousands of smokers in cigarette ads have been lighting up at picnics, on hiking trails, or on horseback. Yet the first commercial smoker to get hauled into court is the first one to have stepped into a pool hall, to have shrugged off respectability. While the FTC is not consciously playing the prude here, there is a logic to cultural control to which regulators are heir.
Personally I think this really hurt camel, due to the fact that using this cartoon, fun looking camel helped them sell more product. Although I can see how this fun character would entice younger kids to want to smoke. The advertising and imagery for this product really has a large impact on its buyers. I also think that camels old advertising method was much more effective then the new generic camel logo.



History of Graphic Design said...

My parents ere bartenders when I was growing up, so I used to get a ton of these shirts. I can remember being instantly drawn to them because of the comic animated appeal of them. This was way before I ever smoked or even had the desire to smoke a cigarette. But, something tells me that through subtle suggestion Joe Camel could have influenced me to smoke as a young teen. Kids are drawn to pretty much any animal dressed in human clothing, or engaging in human activities (especially cool ones like playing darts or billiards). I think that Camel had the clear agenda of attracting a younger target audience, and I think that legislation to prevent this form of cognitive associations targeted at children is somewhat a violation of the freedom of speech, but is a necessary evil in assisting the sheparding of sheep.

gdhistory anderson becker carter said...

This also reminds me of an episode of family guy that pokes fun at such things. The entire episode is based on a toy company trying to make children and even babies smoke. The show has great humor, but also addresses many social and ethical issues by blowing them way out of proportion.