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Joe Camel is the only product endorser with a custom-made ad agency.

But given the cartoon character's notoriety, it's perhaps appropriate that New York-based Mezzina/Brown was formed specifically to handle R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. and its Camel cigarette account in 1991.

Ironically, the agency-created when several executives from Young & Rubicam broke away and set up shop to handle RJR-mistakenly gets a lot of guff for creating the Joe Camel character and campaign.

In fact, the low-profile agency helps keep the character alive.

Joe Camel was created in 1974 by a British illustrator for a French Camel campaign.

In 1987, Trone Advertising, Greensboro, N.C., imported the image to the U.S. for use in a 75th birthday logo for Camel cigarettes.

The "Smooth character" campaign was created subsequently by McCann-Erickson Worldwide, and the advertising evolved further at Young & Rubicam and Mezzina/Brown.

The agency has attempted to expand beyond its core account with mixed success. Most of the accounts acquired in a 1993 merger with Wills & Evans have left the shop or are conducting agency reviews.

Agency President William Brown Jr. called the controversy surrounding founding client Joe Camel a "freedom of commercial speech issue."

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