The Swarm

November 25, 2007

Kill Rock Stars: Camel targets indie rock

David Prince

UPDATE: The Indie Rock Universe Strikes Back: Fucked Up and Xiu Xiu file class action lawsuit against Camel and Rolling Stone

UPDATE: Indie labels demand apology in open letter to Rolling Stone

UPDATE: Will the bands sue Camel and Rolling Stone too?

UPDATE: Winston-Salem Journal: Reynolds halts controversial ad campaign:

R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. said today that it has voluntarily halted promotions for a Camel marketing campaign aimed at adult listeners of independent rock music.

The decision comes a day after Reynolds was sued by nine state attorneys general over ads for Camel cigarettes that recently ran in Rolling Stone magazine.

The attorneys general of California, Connecticut, Illinois, Maine, Maryland, New York, Ohio, Pennsylvania and Washington accused Reynolds of violating the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between 46 states and tobacco manufacturers because a nine-page pullout in the Nov. 15 issue sponsored by Reynolds contained cartoon images.

Other states are expected to file separate lawsuits. The company could face a fine exceeding $100 million for violating the cartoon ban, according to Tom Corbett, the attorney general for Pennsylvania.


Howard said that Reynolds sent a letter Tuesday to the tobacco-enforcement committee of the National Association of Attorneys General. The letter said that Reynolds would be willing to halt the Camel “The Farm” marketing.

“We are voluntarily taking these steps as an interim accommodation until this matter is resolved,” Howard said. That includes suspending distribution of music CDs with The Farm promotion, no longer using The Farm imagery at music events and suspending operation of the indie Web site.

“Scheduled age-restricted events in adult-only venues will still be held,” Howard said. “There will be live music at the events performed by indie rock bands.”

UPDATE: US States sue RJ Reynolds for Rolling Stone ad:

An illustrated advertising section in Rolling Stone magazine violates the tobacco industry’s nine-year-old promise not to use cartoons to sell cigarettes, state officials charged Tuesday.

Attorney general’s offices in at least eight states planned to file lawsuits starting Tuesday about the advertising for Camel cigarettes in the November edition of Rolling Stone, officials said.

The section combines pages of Camel cigarette ads with pages of magazine-produced illustrations on the theme of independent rock music.

“Their latest nine-page advertising spread in Rolling Stone, filled with cartoons, flies in the face of their pledge to halt all tobacco marketing to children,” Pennsylvania’s Attorney General Tom Corbett said in a statement released Tuesday.

Pennsylvania, California, Illinois, New York, Ohio and Washington state are filing lawsuits Tuesday, Corbett’s office said. Attorneys general offices in two other states, Maryland and Connecticut, also said they were taking part.

UPDATE: California sues R.J. Reynolds over Rolling Stone feature:

California Atty. Gen. Jerry Brown today sued cigarette maker R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., accusing it of violating a 1998 legal settlement that banned the use of the iconic Joe Camel character and other cartoons in tobacco advertisements.

California is one of eight states, including New York, Ohio and Pennsylvania, filing complaints in local courts. The suits are aimed at an editorial feature with accompanying advertising touting the “Farm Rocks” independent music campaign. The feature appeared in a 40th anniversary edition of Rolling Stone magazine published Nov. 15.

“It looks like a cartoon and has little machines in the air and caricatures,” Brown said in an interview. “This violates the rules as written.”

The lawsuit filed in San Diego County Superior Court says that “given the aggressive and blatant nature of the Farm Rocks campaign, and its integral use of cartoons in cigarette advertising, we believe Reynolds has committed a clear-cut violation.” The complaint asks that “significant sanction should be assessed.”

R.J. Reynolds counters that it didn’t violate the 1998 multistate agreement. The cartoons printed in the nine-page spread, said R.J. Reynolds spokesman David Howard, were created by Rolling Stone artists and designers, working completely independent of Reynolds’ advertising executives.

“In our opinion, what’s at issue is the editorial content, and Rolling Stone in a letter said we had no control over it,” Howard said. What’s more, he added, the lawsuits appear to violate settlement requirements that the company be given at least a 30-day notice before legal action is taken.

UPDATE: RJ Reynolds to stop cigarette print ads in 2008:

The company had been criticized for both its colorful and feminine Camel No. 9 ads, which appeared in fashion magazines and were seen as being aimed at young women, and also for a recent ad in Rolling Stone.

In that ad, four pages of Camel cigarette ads bookended Rolling Stone’s own material on independent rock music, which was presented in a cartoon-like format. That angered anti-smoking advocates, who said it appeared the whole thing was a Camel ad — and that it recalled the old “Joe Camel” cartoons that were banned because they appeared aimed at children.

R.J. Reynolds spokeswoman Jan Smith said the decision, first reported Tuesday in the Winston-Salem Journal, had been made sometime before October and was unrelated to the Rolling Stone controversy.

Earlier this year, The Daily Swarm twice reported on a disturbing trend: Camel Cigarettes has turned its aggressive marketing efforts and unlimited cash resources towards recruiting its next generation of customers from the ranks of indie rock fans. We pointed to two specific Camel tour sponsorships of much beloved “elder statesmen” of the indie rock scene – the Flaming Lips and Dinosaur Jr – sparking some pointed debate among our readers and the bands’ fans about the artists’ (and their own) responsibility in responding to this corporate intrusion. Now, it appears that this discussion may jump into the national consciousness, as a Camel advertorial section in a recent issue of Rolling Stone might once again put the Big Tobacco company in serious legal jeopardy.

If you bothered to pick up an actual print copy of last month’s 40th Anniversary issue of Rolling Stone (instead of just perusing the ass-backwards ‘digital edition’ that Wenner Media tried to make such a big deal about), you probably flipped right to a 4-page pull-out section near the front of the book entitled the “Indie Rock Universe.” The fold-out poster – a bizarre illustration that lists dozens of Pitchfork-centric bands grouped around representations of various planets and animals – is nestled in between five pages of advertisements for “The Farm,” Camel Cigarettes’ indie band and label-focused promotion. If you are like most indie music fans who paid any attention to those pages, you likely assumed that the “Indie Rock Universe” poster was part and parcel of the Camel advertising campaign; if not, the message was clear…Camel’s got indie rock’s back.

In today’s New York Times, Stuart Elliot reports that Camel’s parent company R.J. Reynolds Tobacco is now under fire for this poorly disguised advertorial section:

“This is one great big cigarette ad,” said Matthew L. Myers, president of the organization, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, in Washington.

“The fact that Rolling Stone produced the content, but displayed it in such a manner that it is indistinguishable from the Camel ad, only makes them an accomplice,” he added.

The insert may also violate the 1998 settlement between tobacco companies and state attorneys general, Mr. Myers said, because the illustrations look like cartoons, which can no longer be used in cigarette ads.

The insert is particularly egregious, he added, because Camel “is most notorious for using cartoon characters to market cigarettes to children with the now-banned Joe Camel.”

David Howard, a spokesman for R. J. Reynolds Tobacco in Winston-Salem, N.C., the unit of Reynolds American that sells Camels, disputed the complaint. There was a clear delineation, he said, between “our ads on the outside pages” of the insert and “the inside foldout, which is all editorial content from Rolling Stone.”

At Rolling Stone, a unit of Wenner Media in New York, the publisher, Ray Chelstowski, said Reynolds “had no idea it would take a cartoon format” because “the advertisers don’t know” in advance about articles. just as “the editors don’t see the advertising.”

While both R.J. Reynolds and Rolling Stone spokesmen deny any collusion between the advertising and the “editorial,” its hard to take their statements seriously. The theme of the ads and the “editorial content” are one and the same. The color scheme of the ads and the drawing, while not identical, is complimentary. And while the legal ramifications could be quite serious for Camel if the anti-smoking people make a real case that this is a violation of the 1998 tobacco settlement with the states’ attorneys general, Rolling Stone has something to lose too: unmarked advertorial is a violation of the American Society of Magazine Editors’ editorial guidelines, and should Jann Wenner submit this issue for National Magazine Awards consideration, it will probably be disqualified.

Rolling Stone isn’t really the issue: the magazine is not a real supporter of indie rock, and the “Indie Rock Universe” graphic was at best an opportunity to name check a few dozen hipster bands that would rarely, if ever, get coverage in its pages and collect a huge check from Big Tobacco for their editors’ time and efforts. But for R.J. Reynolds Tobacco, the Rolling Stone ad is just a small but visible part of its shift in marketing efforts to aggressively target what it clearly views as a growing and desirable demographic: indie rock musicians and their fans.

For more than a year, the cigarette company has been sponsoring the “Camel Signature Event” concert series, paying top dollar to artists like the Flaming Lips, Phoenix, G. Love and Special Sauce, The Black Keys, Dinosaur Jr, Dr. Dog, and Band of Horses to play club concerts while distributing free tickets on a Camel website and in person at bars and clubs via marketing reps in each of the cities where the concerts occur.

As The Daily Swarm reported on the Camel-sponsored Dinosaur Jr tour earlier this year:

According to several eyewitness tipsters, the Camel branding at the shows was, as one Seattle fan wrote, “really next level – unsettling to say the least.” Yeah, they had Camel girls handing out free smokes; giant light boxes with the Camel logo and the band’s faces; Camel reps offering lighters, stickers, drink tickets, and posters to people willing to take a survey; and 30 minutes of non-stop Camel ads on the video screen before the band went on. But the kicker was this: the tour touched down at mostly non-smoking venues, so Camel parked several tour buses out front – to use as deluxe smoker’s lounges.

Or, as an Austinist editor wrote after attending one of the Camel-sponsored Flaming Lips shows:

Scanning the venue, I attempted to make mental notes of Camel’s full-court press on my Gen Y sensibilities: internally lit logo boxes dangling from the ceiling above the audience, free smokes flowing like black manna, a smoking lounge with comfortable couches and littered with Camel falderal beckoning to young bottoms, adjectives such as “smooth”, “flavorful”, and “Turkish” were projected to us randomly, and attractive blondes operating activity kiosks for us to while away our time at such as the Camel Sand-Art booth (I briefly pondered what birdbrained marketing associate proposed Sand-Art as an effective way to reach culturally aware 18–35 year olds.)

(While Camel insists that the concerts sponsorships are solely to reward existing Camel smokers, many reports from the cities where the shows have taken place claim that tickets were widely available to any fans of the band who were interested in attending, and that a handful for each show were available for purchase through normal ticketing channels.)

As for Camel’s “The Farm” promotion, its mission statement is:

The world of independent music is constantly changing. New styles and sounds emerge daily. That’s why we’re bringing you THE FARM. A collaboration between Camel and independent artists and record labels. It’s our way of supporting these innovators as they rise up to bring their sounds to the surface. We give them more opportunities to be heard through online music and countless events across the nation.

The “collaboration” between Camel and independent artists and record labels appears to be pretty limited. According to several managers and labels contacted by The Daily Swarm, Camel’s support consists primarily of $1500 licensing fees for tracks included on a promotional CD (supposedly 1 million copies of The Farm CD will be handed out at shows this year). The Farm also sponsors small club shows, underwriting band fees and promotional flyers for clubs in return for the opportunity to set up The Farm “merch booths” in the venues’ lobbies. The Farm website has links to participating labels and bands’ websites, mixed in with upcoming show information and “D.I.Y. how-to” articles (like how to make a duct tape wallet). All in all, pretty useless.

It all sounds like a lame attempt by corporate behemoths to crash the Pitchfork party, and assign aging and increasingly uncool brands some credibility with “the kids” by naming-checking a bunch of new bands and waving the “indie” slogan around in an embarrassing attempt to be a part of the next generation. With the “Indie Rock Universe”, Camel and Rolling Stone aren’t just co-conspirators, they’re after the same thing.

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