Joe Camel — a hipster? R.J. Reynolds markets its smokes to Williamsburg

Joe Camel — a hipster? R.J. Reynolds markets its smokes to Williamsburg
R.J. Reynolds

Williamsburg’s hipsters have been smoking for decades — but Joe Camel wants them to start puffing their own neighborhood brand.

R.J. Reynolds launched a “Williamsburg” version of Camel smokes last month — in perhaps the most blatant attempt to corner the hipster market since American Apparel opened on N. Sixth Street.

But there’s nothing local about this promotional effort. As part of the 10-week “Camel Break Free” promotion, cigarette boxes of Camel Blues, formerly Camel Lights, have been redesigned to feature 10 “cool” places throughout the country such as Seattle, the Haight and Austin, Tex.

Camel’s “Williamsburg” box places a tanned dromedary on what appears to be Kent Avenue with the former Domino Sugar factory and the Williamsburg Bridge in its background.

According to the Camel website, the company refers to Williamsburg as “the most famous hipster neighborhood,” but assures smokers, “It’s not about hip, it’s about breaking free.”

“It’s about last call, a sloppy kiss goodbye and a solo saunter to a rock show in an abandoned building …” said the promotional material, possibly written by a team of marketers who have never been to Williamsburg. “It’s where a tree grows.” (Groan.)

The marketing campaign promises its customers will earn “serious street cred” for trying the Williamsburg brand, and noted that Camel met with some “modern-day pioneers” with “lighthearted angst and rebellion” in the neighborhood to try the brand out.

Company spokesman David Howard said the marketing campaign was movitated by one thing: Helping hipsters to understand that Camel fits their way of life.

“It’s known as a hipster neighborhood,” Howard said. “We’ve found the temperament of what Williamsburg stands for, and its artistic approach to life, meshes with the Camel brand.”

Not so, said Councilman Steve Levin (D–Williamsburg), who was not amused by this latest attempt to promote smoking in a targeted demographic. The cigarette industry has been notorious over the years for targeting blacks, housewives, and even kids with specific marketing strategies.

“I don’t like to see a promotion targeting a neighborhood that I represent,” said Levin. “Look at the history of cigarette advertising. Cigarettes are very dangerous, and I don’t like to see an ad campaign which is trying to get more people to smoke in my district.”

Borough President Markowitz was very slightly more amused.

“As a former smoker, I know there is no way to responsibly use cigarettes,” said Markowitz. “So when we say that Williamsburg and Brooklyn are smokin’, we mean smokin’ hot — not smokin’ cigarettes!”

The company began its 10-week national campaign in New Orleans and won’t make a true promotional push in Brooklyn beyond stocking the cigarettes in stores and marketing on the website.

It is uncertain what kind of reception Camel will receive when the promotional campaign comes to Williamsburg, but hipster bloggers Andrea Bartz and Brenna Ehrlich, authors of “Stuff Hipsters Hate,” strongly questioned whether hipster smokers would take the initiative to visit Camel’s website and register for prizes as part of the campaign.

“The campaign might do alright with the 17-year-old poseur set in Toledo, but Brooklynites will not be interested,” said Bartz. “After all they roll their own, or bum Parliament Lights off whomever’s outside the bar.”