Joe Camel, the debonair, pool-playing mascot for Camel cigarettes, was used by R.J. Reynolds for a solid decade to help push their brand of smokes. He drove fast cars, hung out with beautiful women, and was always dressed to the nines. He was also a cartoon, of course, and this got his corporate overlords in trouble in the '90s when they were accused of using Joe to market cigarettes to children.
R.J. Reynolds eventually ended the Joe Camel campaign in 1997, but not without a fight. They challenged the accusations of insidious marketing in a legal battle before the pressure got too strong and forced them to settle out of court and pull the plug. The reason the company risked bad press for such a long time was simple: Joe was incredibly popular. Sadly, even some people of legal smoking age wanted this cartoon camel to be their friend.
Take these letters addressed to Joe Camel, for example. They are part of the Legacy Tobacco Documents Library, which was established to "house and maintain tobacco industry internal corporate documents produced during litigation between 46 U.S. States and the seven major tobacco industry organizations." Many of the people writing to Joe were members of his V.I.P. club, a program where you could earn "C-notes" or "Camel Cash" that could go towards Camel merchandise. V.I.P. members often received letters back from the cartoon camel, usually signed "Stay Smooth, Joe."
Decades after Joe Camel was put to bed, these correspondences serve as a sad reminder of a too-successful marketing campaign for an addictive product that didn't need the help.
1. "We need to get together and throw darts."
2. "I won't turn my back old buddy. Thanks for the years of pleasure pal."
3. "Thank you for your thoughtful holiday gift."
4. "My parents love your cigarettes."
5. "Keep up the great work!"
6. "I love your sense of humor."
7. "I want to thank you for your generous offer."
8. "Be Healthy!"
9. "...Communist Democrats..."
10. "I have more Camel Cash than the real thing."
11. "With or without VIP status."
12. "How ya doing my friend?"
[All letters via UCSF's Legacy Tobacco Documents Library]