Hamlet Cigars

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Hamlet cigars were created in 1964 by the long-established U.K. tobacco marketing company Gallaher. Wanting a name that sounded quasi-European, Gallaher had toyed with calling the small cigar "Prince of Denmark," but decided that was too much of a mouthful. From there, though, it was a short step to "Hamlet."

The cigar stood out from its competitors. It came in a light-colored hull and slide pack, while the others were in dark tins. It was longer, slimmer and was wrapped in Connecticut shade-grown leaf, making it look and taste lighter than other cigars.

Early in 1961, Gallaher signed up a dynamic new London ad agency, Collett Dickenson Pearce, which had opened in April 1960.

Polling consumers

When faced with the new, distinctive cigar brand Hamlet, CDP embarked on the then-unusual step of talking with consumers about why they smoked small cigars. This research showed that smokers felt a sense of inner relaxation and well-being. Cigars were seen as a small, affordable luxury that could punctuate their hectic lives. From this premise, the proposition was developed that a Hamlet cigar brings "solace in the face of adversity."

Ian Warrener and Rob Curruthers made up CDP's creative team charged with the task of developing a strategy for the brand. Legend has it that they were waiting for a double-decker bus one evening in a howling gale. Mr. Warrener inhaled deeply, leaned back, and said, "Happiness is a cigarette on the top of a number 34 bus." Mr. Curruthers wrote it down, and the next day one of the most enduring theme lines in the history of British advertising was born: "Happiness is a cigar called Hamlet."

From the onset Hamlet ads introduced a new tone of voice. They were among the first to enjoy a joke with the audience. The ads shared the well-known and readily understood feeling that when the world seems to be against you, there may be little you can do about it. The best option, then, is to shrug off your cares and reach for a comforting cigar. The product did not claim to solve the problem but simply to make it easier to bear.

The advertising of many tobacco products at the time used idealized stereotypes, to which the target market—men in the 35-to-55 age group—could aspire. Hamlet took an opposing stance, showing a vulnerable main character in embarrassing or frustrating situations, finding refuge and relief in a quiet, restorative smoke.

First TV spot

Hamlet's debut TV spot in b&w appeared in 1964. It showed a man with his leg in plaster, lying in a hospital bed, enjoying a cigar. This scenario developed into a three-stage story: problem, product, solution. The product enhanced the quality of life of the protagonist. This was exemplified by the "music teacher" commercial in 1966, in which a man tormented by his pupil's discordant piano playing finds solace in a Hamlet. The campaign was the first to use music as an integral element of the brand's personality. Hamlet became brand leader within eight years, a position it has retained ever since.

Many Hamlet ads have covered topical events, such as the spot that coincided with the launch of Channel 4 Television. The ad showed the station's logo coming together to form the number 5, instead of 4; the error was another of life's trials that a Hamlet cigar could help the smoker cope with.

In the U.K., cigarettes and tobacco for hand rolling were banned from TV advertising in 1971, while ads for pipe tobacco and cigars (including Hamlet) were banned from TV in 1991. Anticipating that cinema tobacco advertising also would be banned, in December 1999, CDP created "Life," which showed five scenarios based on the premise that everybody experiences "Hamlet moments." The agency hoped to perpetuate the memory of its ads by encouraging people to continue recognizing such moments in their own lives.

Finally, in 2003, magazine, newspaper, outdoor and Internet tobacco advertising was banned, followed by unsolicited direct mail, coupons and free samples, with promotion will be allowed only at point-of-sale. For Hamlet cigars, Gallaher marked 40 years of advertising by CDP Travissully, London, with a temporary Web site of the brand's best TV, cinema and radio ads.

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