‘Cowboy Look is the One I Sought’: Camel Cigarette Ads (1979 – 1989)

Camel Ad 1979

Ad #1 (1979)

Camel Ad 1980

Ad #2 (1980)

Camel Ad 1981

Ad #3 (1981)

Camel Ad 1982

Ad #4 (1982)

Camel Ad 1984

Ad #5 (1984)

Camel Ad 1984-2

Ad #6 (1984)

Camel Ad 1984-3

Ad #7 (1984)

Camel Ad 1985

Ad #8 (1985)

Camel Ad 1985-2

Ad #9 (1985)

Camel Ad 1986

Ad #10 (1985)

Camel Ad 1988

Ad #11 (1988)

Camel Ad 1989

Ad #12 (1989)

The curly haired, mustachioed adventure man seen above starred in Camel ads from 1979 to 1988, when Joe Camel—a stylized, stylish cartoon camel—took over. I went through a slew of ads that ran during those 10 years and posted the most representative one I found for each year. As you can see, Camel Lights were the focus.

Smoking in the ’80s was still, overall, socially acceptable, but there was no longer any question that we were killing ourselves. (Cigarette ads had been banned from TV and radio in 1971 as part of the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act.) The “Where a man belongs” slogan—it always appears under the CAMEL heading, never the CAMEL LIGHTS heading—gave way to the “It’s a whole new world” slogan.

All the cowboys were dead or dying of cancer, including John Wayne, Camel’s most famous spokesman. The trick for Big Tobacco, with the exception of Marlboro, was to bury their dead tough guys on the prairie and move the wagons along, and that meant figuring out how to sell cigarettes to Gen X. Joe Camel, a hip, clean, sardonic urban adventurer, was one leading brand’s answer.

The second to last ad is a clear imitation of the slickest production of the ’80s, Miami Vice. Sonny Crockett is one of the last good guys I remember smoking on TV.

3 Responses to “‘Cowboy Look is the One I Sought’: Camel Cigarette Ads (1979 – 1989)”


  1. 1 leftylimbo May 10, 2013 at 12:15 am

    Did you ever hear the discussion about the face of the camel (specifically the nose and mouth) resembling male genitalia, while the lips resemble the female counterpart? Ever since I heard that, I automatically see it every time I see that camel.

  2. 2 2W2N May 12, 2013 at 2:01 pm

    Oh yeah. And that added another layer to Joe Camel. I mean, look at his nose!

  3. 3 leftylimbo May 12, 2013 at 6:50 pm

    Ah, 1989. I can’t believe it was that long ago. I was in first year college. I’m pretty sure I learned about that in one of my art/graphic design classes, when we were discussing the whole marketing philosophy that “sex sells.” Dood. You can’t get any more blatant with that nose. lol.

    Oh yeah, it’s all coming back to me now. The Camel ad was presented in a slideshow with other ads with hidden sexual messages. I think the most interesting one was an ad dealing with breastfeeding or something, and in the shadow near the breast you could just baaaaarely make out the word “sex.” It was like, something you wouldn’t visually see but your brain would register it somehow. That was pretty crazy!


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