Camel No.9 stirs up Victorian age rage

Last week, The Associated Press reported that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. is getting static about their newest brand extension, Camel No.9. Reynolds is being accused of “cynically aiming (Camel No.9) at getting young women and girls to start smoking”. Womens organizations and public-health organizations want the brand removed from the shelves.

Camel No.9 is packaged much differently than the traditional and familiar Camel package. It’s black with pink (regular) or real (menthol) trim and a small camel in silhouette. It’s trade dress and ad style is right out of the Victorian age. Yes, it was designed for and marketed to women.


Shame on you, R.J. Reynolds for not ignoring a major market for your product. We all remember the “Joe Camel” promotions that were also allegedly aimed at young people. Joe was mostly a “man’s thing” since Camels were positioned as a The Joe character was pretty juvenile and critics did have a case that Reynolds was targeting under-age smokers.

But Camel No.9, though feminine and “dainty” has not, at least through its packaging and its “Light and Luscious” tagline, singled out underage smoking women. So as long as smoking is legal in the U.S.A., and the tobacco companies comply by regulations, I say let them be.


But the real subject of this blog has to do with R.J. Reynolds taking a product its positioned for 75-years as a blue-collar, bordering on red-neck, smoke, and attempting to line-extend it to a female market.


A hope there was animated and even angry arguments about the pros and cons of that move. I’m pretty sure, though I don’t know him personally, the brand manager in charge of Camel must have fought tooth and nail to maintain the integrity and uniqueness of the brand.

Perhaps they envisioned the success Marlboro had when the brand went from a “female” brand to a “macho” brand and leapt to the top of the heap. But this is different in a lot of ways. First, Camel is and has been known as a masculine brand for at least 75-years. Second, Marlboro relinquished any claim to its weakly-held position in the feminine arena when it morphed into the cowboy brand.

As a women, do the Camel associations of pick-up trucks, pro wrestling and construction workers appeal?

Here is a fine example of how not to position. This example is precisely what Ries and Trout warned about in their classic book, Positioning: The Battle for Your Mind.

Perhaps, in the long run, R.J. Reynolds will find their interests better served if they back away from Camel No 9. Then, go ahead and introduce a new brand for that market later. They would then save the Camel position and introduce an untainted feminine brand.

R.J. Reynolds, my fees are reasonable. Give me a call.

Martin Jelsema

6 thoughts on “Camel No.9 stirs up Victorian age rage

  1. It is a shame companies are destroying brand heritage just to make a few more dollars. Consumers can form long lasting relationships with brands and feel betrayed when they are repositioned in the market.

    I think Camel have used this brand to reposition as the market must be shrinking or competition is increasing. Therefore Camel understand there is a niche in the market and instead of spending millions on launching a brand new brand – it is repositioned. The niche market will already know of the Camel brand – it is only the perception of the brand that needs to be adapted!

    I do hate it when brands disapear!

  2. When and as markets shrink and/or when brands lose popularity, I believe it is even more vital from the brand owner’s perspective to stay focused. The brand, when it has a long heritage as does Camel, is in the life cyle Boston Consulting called “Cash Cow”. It’s time to let it out to pasture, not try to resusitate it. Yes, we hate to lose brands but the essential consideration here is the company will lose its core customer base at the expense of a little “last gasp” from male-like women. At least that’s my impression.

  3. Chris: My passion is not about Camels. When I smoked in the 1950’s, my brand was Lucky Strikes. I quit smaoking for good in the early 1980’s and I can’t even remember what brand I quit smoking. No, my passion is branding.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.