RJR spins Turkish Gold from Camel line

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R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. saw a golden opportunity to bring a new cigarette to market on a camel's back.

Turkish Gold, the No. 2 tobacco company's latest product extension in its oldest line, is positioned as a smooth, exotic cigarette. It leverages the 87-year-old Camel brand's heritage by highlighting its Turkish/American tobacco blend.

"It's an opportunity for Camel to put the spotlight on all the things that Camel really stands for," said Fran Creighton, VP-marketing for Camel.

MELLOW ATTRIBUTES

When the brand was born in 1913, the Turkish/domestic blend was unique in the U.S. marketplace, she said. Each of the 16 products in the Camel line are made from slightly different blends, and the new Turkish Gold -- a light, filtered cigarette -- "particularly underscores the more smooth and mellow attributes of cigarettes," Ms. Creighton said.

RJR's confidence in Turkish Gold is evident in its decision to nationally roll out the product in April without any test-market trials. The new smoke is reminiscent of its siblings in the Camel family, with similar packaging -- featuring the camel in the forefront of a Middle Eastern village -- and its advertising.

A print ad for Turkish Gold, from Camel agency of record Mezzina Brown & Partners, New York, uses the "Pleasure to burn" tagline the shop created for Camel in September. The ad -- in page and four-page-insert versions -- broke this month in consumer magazines including Entertainment Weekly, GQ, Maxim and Premiere.

RJR does not plan to follow rival Philip Morris USA's decision to pull ads from more than 40 magazines due to high numbers of teen readers (AA, June 12). RJR is maintaining its policy to advertise in titles in which at least two-thirds of the readership is 18 or older.

Fitting with the rest of the Camel campaign, the new ad "is an artistic rendition of a place you would expect to find Turkish Gold," which Ms. Creighton described as an "exotic location."

CLASSIC AND CONTEMPORARY

The Camel campaign also relies on the juxtaposition of classic and contemporary. The new ad for Turkish Gold features a 1940s cigarette girl with a nose ring, similar to other Camel ads with characters including a 1950s car-hop waitress on inline skates and an old-time, trench coat-clad detective with an earring. The inside spread of the four-page insert shows the cigarette girl selling Turkish Gold at an exotic nightclub, and on the back page she is enjoying a cigarette on the piano bench beside the club's piano player.

"Camel has always stood for the things that this campaign represents," Ms. Creighton said, including "its fun, irreverent, pleasurable personality."

Analyst Ann Gurkin of Davenport & Co. said although it is too soon to predict the outcome of the Turkish Gold launch, "I think it's the right thing to do and to market towards."

RJR is the No. 2 tobacco marketer with a 23% share, behind Philip Morris with 49.6% and ahead of Brown & Williamson Tobacco Corp. with 13.4%, according to The Maxwell Report.

STABILIZING AND GROWING

RJR is focusing on stabilizing and growing its three key premium brands, Camel, Salem and Winston, as well as its Doral discount brand. Earlier this month the company introduced its second total-line revamp of Winston in three years -- making the additive-free cigarettes with a "100% first-cut" blend, containing no reprocessed sheet tobacco made from scraps -- backed by the "No bull" campaign from Doe-Anderson, Louisville, Ky. (AA, June 5).

Ms. Creighton made a distinction, however, between Winston, which struggled to maintain market share in the '90s, and Camel, which Ms. Creighton said grew 1 share point between 1995 and 1998, and had a strong second half in 1999. Its 1999 market share of 5.01% was essentially flat compared to its 4.99% share the previous year, according to Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.'s analysis of company reports. In the first quarter of this year, Camel saw a modest 0.2% share increase over the same period in 1999, the only one of RJR's premium brands to rise.

"I put a lot of credit behind the marketing for Camel for the resurgence in volume," Ms. Gurkin said, adding that Camel's line extensions -- including the introduction of Camel Menthol and Red Kamel in 1996 -- have helped boost the brand.

GREATER GROWTH

Ms. Creighton hopes the introduction of Turkish Gold will fuel greater share growth by attracting Camel users and smokers of competitive cigarettes.

And it seems to be working. Jim Clark, owner of a Jackpot Food Mart convenience store and gas station called RJ's in Colville, Wash., said he can't keep Turkish Gold on the shelves. "I've never seen a new cigarette come out and sell like this," he said, adding that smokers of Camel filtered cigarettes and competitive brands like Philip Morris' Marlboro are trying the new smokes. "It seems like younger people are buying them," he said, referring to smokers between 18 and their early 30s. But Mr. Clark, a longtime Marlboro smoker, said he didn't like Turkish Gold. "It's smoother, but not a strong smoother."

Doug Burke, of Burke's Distributing in Spokane, Wash., which fills cigarette orders throughout Washington and Idaho, said "people are asking for them at the retail locations." Even though Turkish Gold has only been on the shelves in some places for a few weeks, he said, "sales are really picking up."

The launch "gave us a chance to provide some new news, to get the attention of adult smokers in a very competitive marketplace," Ms. Creighton said.

Although she would not reveal ad spending on Turkish Gold, she said "in order for us to launch the brand, we will be featuring Turkish Gold in what we do in marketing at least for the short term," in addition to marketing the total Camel line. "I do expect that Turkish Gold will be a part of the marketing we'll do for the total brand ongoing." RJR spent $149 million on measured media in 1999, a third of that -- $44.2 million -- on Camel, according to Competitive Media Reporting.

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