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NEW YORK -- In their new campaign to sell Camel cigarettes, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco is harking back to the Prohibition era with a "Roaring 2000s" tour that will include "speakeasy events" this summer around the country. By contrast, Brown & Williamson is test-marketing its Advance brand of cigarettes in Phoenix with a blunt appeal to health-conscious smokers: "Great taste -- less toxins," according to the New York Times News Service.
Different as those two approaches may seem, they are actually about to be targeted at consumers by the same company. That will happen as soon as R.J. Reynolds Holdings completes -- most likely sometime this month -- its $3 billion takeover of Brown & Williamson, the U.S. cigarette unit of British American Tobacco.
But perhaps it is not so surprising that the new company, to be called Reynolds American Inc., will find itself conducting such contrasting campaigns. They both reflect the struggle within the industry to find new ways to broaden the range of cigarette appeals in a world where smoking tobacco is increasingly scorned, forbidden or hidden, said David W. Stewart, the Robert E. Brooker professor of marketing at the University of Southern California.
"What you see is an effort in both of these campaigns for the brands to differentiate themselves in some way," Stewart said, "but also in the context of broader social mores and trends related to tobacco."
One way to appeal to smokers, it seems, is to encourage them to think of themselves as rebelling against a repressive orthodoxy. The Camel campaign is clearly in this genre, even including a special tie-in flavor called Back Alley Blend.
The other approach frankly acknowledges that tobacco is bad for your health. But that, too, reflects a recognition that smokers are under attack.
"It tries to confront and be honest with smokers," said Kevin McDonagh, director for Advance at Brown & Williamson. "We know it's difficult to be a smoker."
In some ways, cigarette advertising has changed little in years. With the exception of now-retired characters like Joe Camel, tobacco companies have generally stuck to flavor claims, lifestyle advertising and new packaging, rarely exploring new promises or premises in their ads.