Joe Camel (1974-1997)

‘Behind the Eight-Ball” (1997)
by Jim Borgman (1954-)
6 x 12 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection

The “Joe Camel” character was born in France in 1974. The caricatured camel, inspired by the original 1913 “Old Joe” – the camel on Camels. By 1988, the character had appeared all over Europe and made its move to the US for the 75th anniversary of the brand.

In 1991, an article in the Journal of the American Medical Association (in a rather brilliant move) argued by inference that the brand recognition, by virtue of this character, was enough to conclude that the company was targeting youth. By age six, as many children could identify “Joe Camel” as they could “Mickey Mouse.” The resulting PR outcry led to the inevitable termination of the character in 1997. Editorial and strip cartoonists got together and commemorated the day… 20 years ago.

John E. Calfree (October 1, 2000) in the  Journal of Public Policy & Marketing, wrote of The Historical Significance of Joe Camel.

There is no evidence that the Joe Camel advertising increased total youth smoking, which declined between 1987 and 1992.

However, the advertisements appear to have wielded substantial influence on the larger political and legal environment. Beginning soon after the publication of three articles in the December 11, 1991, issue of JAMA, Joe Camel became a fixture in attacks on cigarette marketing by public health organizations, advocacy groups, and politicians. The most important of the JAMA results–that the Joe Camel advertisements had their strongest appeal to consumers under 18 years of age and had increased Camel’s share among youth from less than 1% to 33%–turned out to be unsubstantiated. Nonetheless, the idea that Joe Camel advertisements were targeted primarily at underage smokers and dramatically increased smoking persisted in the public health community, the popular press, and government reports.

‘More States Ponder Tobacco Suits” (1996)
by Chuck Asay (1942-)
6 x 8 in., ink on paper
Coppola Collection



Leave a Reply