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Local Branding is Not for Everyone
By: Kaitlin T. Gallucci
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Chrysler is “Imported From Detroit” – of course, the Motor City! Seattle’s Best Coffee – ah, Seattle would have the best coffee! Camel cigarettes of Williamsburg, Brooklyn? Not so much. Associating a brand with a relevant location can create a great brand story and appeal to locals, but that wasn’t the case for Camel’s recent foray into local branding.

Camel didn’t necessary claim any of the locations in its last “Break Free” campaign as being a part of its brand. Rather, Camel Joe was merely traveling to various cities on an “adventure.” However, this adventure involved marketing cigarettes with location-inspired packaging and branding. Understandably, many were unhappy with Camel’s self-imposed affiliation with their cities.

Concerning Camel’s association with the Haight neighborhood of San Francisco, City Attorney Dennis Herrera and Public Health Director Mitch Katz wrote, “San Francisco does not want its cultural icons like the Haight to be exploited to promote the idea that youth can 'evolve, revolve or revolt and follow the force to break free' by smoking Camels." Seattle Governor Chris Gregoire responded to Camel’s Seattle-packaged cigarettes, saying, “I am alarmed and disappointed at R.J. Reynolds’ new marketing campaign which exploits the name and image of Seattle.”

Councilman Steve Levin of Williamsburg, Brooklyn, said, “I don’t like to see a promotion targeting a neighborhood that I represent. Look at the history of cigarette advertising...I don’t like to see an ad campaign which is trying to get more people to smoke in my district.” Camel perceived it as more of an appropriate and kindred alliance, with Camel spokesman David Howard explaining, “It’s known as a hipster neighborhood. We’ve found the temperament of what Williamsburg stands for, and its artistic approach to life meshes with the Camel brand.”

There are plenty of products that people would be proud to call local, but cigarettes evidently aren’t one of them. Targeted local branding can often bring a lot of value to a brand, but in Camel’s case, it brought a great deal of criticism, negative press, and controversy. BrandFreak made a good point regarding the local backlash, writing, “This is something the company should have expected and planned ahead for – not only did they look clueless before, they look like jerks now for continuing the campaign amid so many understandable complaints. They'd better figure out some kind of damage control before an offended city government does more than blow smoke.” I’m honestly surprised that Camel did not confer with these cities prior to including them in the “Break Free Adventure,” or at least inform them. Looking at this case, not even from a health or lifestyle perspective, but simply from a branding perspective – what was Camel thinking? No one wants to be associated with cigarettes – cigarettes themselves can be bad for branding – so this campaign was extremely bold and bound to receive backlash. I won’t deny the brand the right to market, but perhaps Camel Joe could have traveled to various “hip” cities without creating special, limited edition, locally-branded cigarette packaging along the way?

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About the Author
Kaitlin T. Gallucci is a New York based direct and digital marketing strategist. She tweets here.
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