Joe Camel

Joe Camel, born in Europe in 1974 to British artist Nicholas Price, was first introduced to the American market in 1988 for the 75th Anniversary celebration of the Camel tobacco brand (Elliott, 1991).

Previously Camel cigarettes were perceived as a product for the older generation, in order to corner the teen market Camel required a brand image adjustment (FTC, 1997). The importance of gaining loyalty at a young age from tobacco smokers was key as many show brand loyalty throughout their lifetime (Taffler, 2012).

Joe Camel – Smooth Character

Joe Camel Corvette 1988

Camel Cigarettes, 1988. Joe Camel Corvette. [image online] Available at: [Accessed 9th April 2013].

Joe Camel was perceived as appealing to children and teenagers through his ‘cool’ persona. Depicted as a ‘hyper-masculine’ character (Stanford, n.d.) Joe became as well known as Disney (Fischer et al, 1991) and the campaign grew to involve collectable merchandise as well as print advertisements.

Joe Camel – Merchandise

Joe Camel Drinks Holder

[Joe Camel Drink Holder] n.d. [image online] Available at: [Accessed 9th April 2013].

Camel Flip Flops and Cap

[Camel merchandise] n.d. [online image] Available at: [Accessed 9th April 2013].

In 1991 the initial backlash against Joe Camel begun to gain momentum and the company was charged in the Journal of the American Medical Association with “targeting children” (Haig, 2011, p.107 and Margolick, 1994). Following this, Janet Mangini became the first person to legally challenge a tobacco company with targeting children with advertising (Haig, 2011, p.107). It was the Mangini trial that would eventually lead to the downfall of Joe Camel in 1997 (Siegal, 1998).

During the case, documents were made public which showed research conducted by RJR studying the smoking patterns and addiction of children. It was declared that the company used this research to target children with the tobacco product, using Joe Camel as an anchor (Siegal, 1998).

“The fact is that the ad is reaching kids, and it is changing their behaviour.” (Richards, 1991).

It is widely agreed that this practice is morally unethical, not only does it demonstrate the manipulation of children into unhealthy lifestyle choices, but also the dishonest nature of the tobacco company, continually claiming the adverts were only intended at those over the legal smoking age.

It is difficult to enforce ethics to a company selling a product detrimental to health, as the entire practice consists of a complex moral web, depicted in the 2005 film, Thank You For Smoking.

Thank You For Smoking

Thank You For Smoking DVD

[Thank You For Smoking DVD] n.d. [image online] Available at: [Accessed 9th April 2013].

“My job requires a certain . . . moral flexibility.” (Thank You For Smoking, 2005)

Graphic designers and art workers with a higher ethical awareness would have been beneficial in the case of Joe Camel, perhaps preventing such a complex legal battle. While a code of ethics is not legally enforceable, the more designers who are made aware of the consequence of their actions both through education and exposure to ethical arguments would increase the chance of designers rejecting unethical commissions.

From Joe Camel it would be hoped that Camel had learned to avoid targeting children and depicting their product as ‘cool’. Yet today, where allowed, Camel still continues to use underhand tactics to lure the young and impressionable. The Camel No.9 campaign, launched in 2007 appears as the spread for a fashion magazine (Roan, 2010), only on close inspection is it noticeable that is it all an advertisement for Camel No. 9 cigarettes.

Camel No. 9

Camel No.9 Advert

UC San Diego; American Legacy Foundation. Camel No. 9 Advert. Available at: [Accessed 9th April 2013].

From a survey published by the journal “Pediatrics” (Pierce, 2010) the number of teenage girls who preferred Camel No. 9 increased 10% following the advertising campaign.

This campaign, as with Joe Camel, manipulates the insecurities of teenagers and children by introducing the idea of associating with and smoking the Camel brand as ‘cool’.

This is an immoral practice, as the health risks associated with smoking are widely known and selling a product detrimental to health by presenting it as cool or fashionable is unethical.

Today designers with a greater awareness of their influence, have used their talents creating guerilla responses to the Joe Camel campaign.

Joe Chemo

Joe Chemo

Adbusters, 2011. Joe Chemo. [image online] Available at: [Accessed 9th April 2013].

Furthermore the characters utilised have been taken to the extremes in these billboard campaigns. Camel Kids consciously aiming the cigarettes at young children, while penguin mascot of Kool cigarettes is illustrated to be ‘beyond cool’.

Camel Kids and Forever Kool

Camel Kids and Forever Kool, n.d. [image online] Available at: [Accessed 3rd April 2013].

Go to next section: Case studies – good ethics

Elliott, S., 1991. Camel’s Success and Controversy. The New York Times, [online] 12 December. Available at: [Accessed 18th March 2013].

Fischer, PM et al, 1991. Brand logo recognition by children aged 3 to 6 years. Mickey Mouse and Old Joe the Camel. [online] Department of Family Medicine, December 1991. Available at: [Accessed 8th April 2013].

FTC, 1997. Joe Camel advertising campaign violates federal law, FTC says. [online] Federal Trade Commission, 28th May. Available at: [Accessed 3rd April 2013].

Haig, M., 2011. Brand Failures: The truth about the 100 biggest branding mistakes of all time. Second Edition. London: Kogan Page Publishers.

Margolick, D., 1994. At the Bar: Joe Camel takes his lumps at the hands of a California lawyer. [online] The New York Times, 17th June. Available at: [Accessed 7th April 2013].

Pierce, P et al. 2010. Camel cigarette-marketing campaign targeted young teenage girls.[online] Pediatrics: The official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, 15 March. Available at: [Accessed 19th March 2013].

Richards, J., 1991. Camels for kids. Time, 23 December, p.52.

Roan, S., 2010. Another Joe Camel? Teen girls respond to Camel No. 9. [online] Los Angeles Times, 17 March. Available at: [Accessed 19th March 2013].

Siegal, N., 1998. The Last Days of Joe Camel: How a team of lawyers defeated big tobacco. [online] California Lawyer, November. Available at: [Accessed 7th April 2013].

Stanford School of Medicine, n.d. Joe Camel. [online] Available at: [Accessed 8th April 2013].

Taffler, D., 2012. Tobacco packets attract children. Now argue against making them plain. [online] The Guardian, 17th July. Available at: [Accessed 3rd April 2013].

Thank You For Smoking, 2005. [DVD] Jason Reitman. USA: Room 9 Entertainment.


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