Camel cigarettes turn 100 this year. What does a 100 year-old cigarette brand look like? Pretty darn young.
In 2008, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company unleashed Camel Crush. It is a conventional filtered Camel cigarette with a novel twist—a menthol capsule is embedded in the filter so that with a squeeze, the smoker can supply a burst of menthol, converting his or her normal cigarette into a minty, menthol smoke. Just what every 60 year-old veteran Marlboro smoker was waiting for, right? According to RJR, yes.
RJR says, “Camel’s colorful, irreverent personality captures the very spirit of adult tobacco consumers,” and yet it touts Camel Crush as a “Growth Brand.”1 Where do cigarette makers find “growth” markets for their products? Well, let’s let RJR tell us.
A secret 1976 RJR memo recognized that “the 14 to 18 year old group is an increasing segment of the smoking population” so that “RJR-T must soon establish a successful new brand in this market if our position in the industry is to be maintained over the long term.”2 A few years later an RJR “Strategic Research Report” that circulated at the very highest corporate levels recognized that “[y]ounger adult smokers have been the critical factor in the growth and decline of every major brand and company over the last 50 years.” A graph included in the memo is entitled “Younger Adults’ Importance as Replacement Smokers” and charts the starting age for smokers as young as 13. So the point is not lost, a bullet point emphasizes: “More than two-thirds of male smokers start by age 18. Only 5% start after age 24.” Brand loyalty begins young.3
But this was not really news to RJR management. As early as 1928, RJR reminded its sales force “SUMMER SCHOOL is starting,” including in the “High Schools [and] Prep Schools.” Salesmen were encouraged to “give these schools your immediate attention” and get to work “lining up these students for our brands – both as CONSUMERS and BOOSTERS.”4 And for decades RJR advertised its products, including Camel cigarettes, in the weekly comics.
So it appears to have gone with Camel Crush. In May 2012, Business Insider reported that Camel had enjoyed a 21% increase in market share among 12-17 year-old children—“a gain attributable to the Camel Crush cigarette which switches from plain to menthol when you squeeze it.”5 RJR says, “innovations such as Camel Crush” are part of “a new generation of tobacco products.”6 Really?
More than 40 years ago, a senior researcher with R.J. Reynolds by the name of Claude Teague authored a confidential “Research Planning Memorandum on Some Thoughts About New Brands of Cigarettes for the Youth Market.”7 The memo begins:
At the outset it should be said that we are presently, and I believe unfairly, constrained from directly promoting cigarettes to the youth market . . . . Realistically, if our Company is to survive and prosper, over the long term, we must get our share of the youth market. In my opinion this will require new brands tailored to the youth market . . . . Thus, we need new brands designed to be particularly attractive to the young smoker, while ideally at the same time being appealing to all smokers.
Teague spends several pages discussing how “pre-smokers” graduate to “learners” and then to “confirmed smokers.” Exploring both the “physical effects” and “psychological effects” of smoking on each group, Teague arrives at a few conclusions about the ideal cigarette for the youth smoker, including this interesting observation:
Ideally, the name chosen should have a double meaning; that is, one desirable connotation in “straight” language and another in the jargon of youth. A current example may be Kool, which reads on “cool” cat in youth jargon, and also literally connotes a refreshing physical sensation.
“Crush” anyone? While the “straight” meaning applies to “crushing” the filter to mentholate the cigarette, the Urban Dictionary reminds us that a crush is “a burning desire to be with someone who you find very attractive and extremely special.”8 When did you last hear a 40 year-old use the term “crush” in passing conversation? Having two teen daughters, I constantly overhear tales of who is “crushing” on whom at school. Coincidence? There are very few coincidences in the wildly expensive business of marketing cigarettes, particularly in the creation of a whole new line extension.
If coincidence it is, consider another. Teague’s ideal youth cigarette also should include “some useful, demonstrable novelty in filter, mouthpiece, package or other aspect of the product system.” Of course Camel Crush’s novelty filter is its core selling point. Its ad pitch “Squeeze. Click. Change.” mirrors Teague’s recommendation that the product image project “some sort of new experience, something arousing, some curiosity, and some challenge.” We don’t know whether RJR followed Teague’s instruction that “the rate of absorption of nicotine should be kept low by holding pH down,” for beginning smokers, but we do know it is the sort of thing that RJR scientists have considered behind closed doors, as Teague’s memo itself demonstrates.
And we know that RJR has gotten Philip Morris’s attention. While Camel’s market share was up more than 21% among 12-17 year-olds last May, PM’s mainstay Marlboro was down 11.4% at the same time.9 Not to be outdone, Philip Morris introduced NXT last September—its “first and only regular-to-menthol cigarette,” introduced ostensibly “in response to changing adult smoking preferences.”10 Those 60 year-old veteran Marlboro smokers will be thrilled.
Matt Schultz is a Shareholder with Levin, Papantonio, Thomas, Mitchell, Rafferty & Proctor in Pensacola, Florida, and regularly litigates cases against the cigarette industry.
3. Full document freely available at: http://legacy.library.ucsf.edu/tid/swx83d00