Camel Cigarettes — Advertising History

Bull Durham cigarettes of North Carolina were the first nationally recognized tobacco company, but Camel took the lead in popularity in 1913 with a viral advertising campaign, considered the gateway of modern advertising.

First, the R. J. Reynolds company needed to come up with a brand that would set itself apart in the saturated tobacco market. Most of the brands of the time used a Turkish tobacco blend. Advertisements of the era generally included Oriental and exotic imagery to exude something fascinating, rare, and extraordinary, hence, the logo of Camel cigarettes.

The first drawing of the camel was very cartoonish, but when the Barnum and Bailey Circus came to town in Winston, North Carolina, where the R. J. Reynolds company was stationed, a photographer went and took a photo of a one-humped camel named Old Joe. The smug looking creature was perfect for the label of the cigarette packaging.

The R. J. Reynolds company ran an advertisement campaign with their agency N. W. Ayer, with Old Joe camel and the slogan, “The Camels are Coming!” (An interesting allusion to the Book of Genesis, though we are unsure if this was a strategic one or just a coincidence). There was no mention of tobacco, nor cigarettes, nor any product whatsoever in the printed ads. Then, on the fourth day of the campaign, it was announced that Camels were a new brand of cigarette. There was a huge outpouring of support and interest from the public, and by 1915, Camel became the top-selling cigarette brand in the United States.

Camel Collection

Reference: Both billboard images shown here were captured high resolution from 1925 original lithographs obtained by Period Paper depicting early Camel billboard advertising.



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