Monday, July 15, 2013

Did "Madmen" kill the T-cards?

Years ago while researching the phenomenon of baseball (and other subjects) cards' use to sell cigarettes in the extremely competitive market of the 1880s-1910s, I read a compelling argument that indicated it was not the various Federal anti-trust legislation, etc., that doomed the tobacco cards, but an advertising ploy.

According to that source (which I have long forgotten), an advertising "hook" from camel was the reason for the demise of insert cards and premium offers by the American cigarette companies.

The Camel brand was introduced in mid-1913 by the R.J. Reynolds tobacco company. It was designed to be a smoother, milder (!) smoke that could be sold at the then-lower price point of 10 cents a pack.

Printed on the back of every pack of Camels  was this notice: "Don't look for premiums or coupons, as the cost of the tobaccos blended in CAMEL Cigarettes prohibits the use of them."

It was simple . . . and effective.

Once that statement became widely known among U.S. smokers, it is said the competitors could no longer include picture cards or gift-redemption coupons in their cigarettes without tacitly admitting that they did so at the expense of using better tobacco.

A few brands -- geographically concentrated in the Southeast -- bucked the trend until 1920 or so, but Camel's ad men appear to have killed the tobacco card.

Could it really have been that simple?

Camel was still trading on that concept at least as late as 1949, as illustrated by the photos here which, according to the Series 119 designation of the tax stamp, date to 1949.

Camel not only killed the t-cards, but they also killed any notion I might have ever had to take up cigarette smoking.

Back in the late 1950s or early 1960s, when I was around 10 years old, my next-door neighbor, Kevin Hamberger, sneaked one his dad's unfiltered Camels out of the house and we took it behind the garage and fired it up. 

The coughing fit that ensued from just one drag on that cancer-stick permanently cured me of all interest in smoking. 

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