Camel Hopes Design Change Will Pack A Lot Of Punch

At a time when the cigarette industry is under greater scrutiny than ever, R.J. Reynolds is drawing on its limited arsenal to attempt to boost sales.

Last week, RJR gave its iconic Camel brand its first major package redo in 90 years and is adding more premium tobacco to all base brand flavors except menthol. The move is a bold one in a category where such mainstay cigarette brands have changed little since their debuts.

Separately, Camel is testing Camel Crush. The product, described as a "menthol-on-demand cigarette," is a Camel Light cigarette with a capsule in the filter containing menthol. A smoker squeezes the filter to break the capsule. They hear a click and know that the gelatin capsule has broken to release the menthol inside. The smoker can customize the smoke when they first light up, just before they finish or whenever. Tag for supporting marketing will be: "Squeeze. Click. Change."

Brian Stebbins, senior business unit director at R.J. Reynolds, Winston-Salem, N.C., said the packaging change was made because, "As we understand consumers better, every product evolves with refinements here and there. Yet when you look at this category, the cigarette business has changed nothing. [Cigarette] products are rarely reformulated.

For the upgrade, RJR drew on surveys of smokers who said they liked the new packaging, a more contemporary look that keeps recognizable icons of the company's biggest brand.

Scott Lucas, executive director at Interbrand, Cincinnati, said because of limited marketing avenues, cigarette companies have to step it up with their packaging.

"Packaging is really the front line for these guys when once they were the pioneers of advertising," he said. "Now they have to pioneer this front line."

Stebbins, however, said he was aware of the risk of changing up packaging: "When you attempt to make something better, you first and foremost have to make sure that the [consumer] who buys your product everyday already sees the difference in your brand and appreciates it."

The efforts come as sales of the full-flavored, filtered Camel have been flat for two years. But thanks to extensions like female-skewing No. 9, Signature and Camel Wides, Camel overall ended last year with 7.1% market share versus 6.6% in 2006, per the Maxwell Report, Richmond, Va.

With the relaunch, RJR is discontinuing nine slow sellers, leaving Camel with 26 SKUs.

Camel Filter 99 and Light 99 will succeed some of those products. That could help profit margins; they are slightly shorter cigarettes priced the same as a regular stick.

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