Students and ad experts scrutinize

Kane Loukas

There’s nothing like waking up to a cigarette, or at least a cigarette advertisement.
University commuters who travel Huron Boulevard would know for sure, since a billboard for Camel cigarettes on Washington Avenue is the first thing they see every morning as they approach campus. “Mighty Tasty! A Trophy Smoke,” the ad reads, accompanied by a picture of a 70-something man and a youthful 30-something blonde woman on his arm.
Students whose Dinnaken House windows face the street get their Camel ad dosage 24 hours a day, since the bus-sized advertisement blots out a generous part of the Stadium Village skyline and stands taller than most neighboring buildings. Even students in University libraries have the opportunity to take in their fair share of Camel ads in a multitude of magazines.
But while huge, brightly colored billboards and multi-page magazine ads demand attention, the message they send isn’t as obvious. Some can’t decide whether Camel manufacturer R.J. Reynolds is selling cigarettes, promoting trophy wives or both.
“(The billboard) is kind of pointless,” said Ben Dryden, the manager the Blockbuster Video whose storefront faces the billboard. “I think everybody here agreed it was pretty dumb.”
“Dumb” ranked as one of the nicer comments on the ad. “I think it’s kind of disgusting,” said Kristina Kohn, a University freshman.
R.J. Reynolds’ new series of ads have been rubbing people the wrong way, especially those ads appearing in magazines, said Judann Pollack, the Chicago bureau chief at Advertising Age Magazine. The ads she refers to feature a box in the right hand corner with humorous information about the ad’s picture. Many, she said, think the company is mocking the surgeon general’s warning label, an accusation the company denies.
Neither R.J. Reynolds representatives nor their New York ad agency, Mezzina/Brown, would comment on their advertising for this article. Camel marketing director Carol Crossland said because R.J. Reynolds doesn’t market to college-aged consumers, it would be inappropriate to discuss tobacco marketing in a college newspaper.
But others in the advertising industry remarked on Reynolds’ new campaign.
Steven Dupont, an ad agent with Minneapolis firm Carmichael Lynch, said the Camel ads target a specific audience. “While offending many people, it hits many others on target,” he said.
“Every brand has a personality and a character that is relevant to a particular consumer,” Dupont said. “There may be somebody in (R.J. Reynolds’) audience who looks at the ad and says “Wow, that’s me!'”
Since cigarette ads frequently make their way to college campuses, it isn’t far-fetched that the “wow” is silently uttered by more than a few students. But while cigarette makers maintain policies restricting marketing on campuses, some say the new series of Camel advertisements are instead zeroing in on college students.
More than 3,000 University students — 8.8 percent of those enrolled — are everyday smokers, according to a spring 1998 Boynton Health Service survey.
“The company will deny aiming at 18- to 21-year-olds,” said Ira Teinowitz, the Washington, D.C. bureau chief for Advertising Age, an advertising trade magazine. “They denied that with Joe Camel, but they’re trying to appeal to the same image Joe appealed to,” an image that’s enticing to younger people.
For those working in tobacco advertising, Teinowitz’s comments aren’t exactly breaking news. Young customers come with certain obvious advantages. By hooking younger smokers, companies have a life-long buyer, and because college-aged kids are often trying to build a personal image and establish an identity, advertising more easily makes an impression on them.
Teinowitz said Camel marketers, unlike those at Marlboro, often go for the rebellious, anti-establishment image.
“They’re trying to be cutting-edge,” said Pollack. “They’re trying to catch young-adult smokers, something the Rolling Stone crowd is going to like.”
But whether people approve or disapprove of Camel ads, R.J. Reynolds is striking a resounding chord with more than a few of the 25 million smokers in the United States.
Anti-tobacco critics have even lightened up on the company, largely on account of their preference for the adult advertising themes; R.J. Reynolds was forced earlier this year to abandon Joe Camel because it was judged to be too alluring to underage smokers.
Camel sales certainly aren’t hurting, either: they continue to rank second in worldwide sales only to Marlboro.
“To a degree, Reynolds is about the most creative cigarette marketer,” said Pollack. “You may not like Camel’s ads, but they certainly break through.”