The rise and fall of the Joe Camel cartoon is a lesson in disastrous advertising. As a marketing ploy, Joe was allegedly created to draw smokers away from Camel's competitors. The Joe Camel advertising campaigns utilized a masculine camel, or “smooth character,” to create an association between the brand’s cigarettes and the high life. However, when suspicions arose concerning the true audience impacted by these campaigns, attitudes about the smoking ads quickly shifted.
As the influence of these Joe Camel advertising campaigns on children and teens came into question, a firestorm of debate was ignited amongst Washington politicians, advertisers, and academic communities. The debate raised the questions: Did these Joe Camel advertisements have a stronger impact on under-aged consumers than the adults they were ostensibly intended for? Did the Joe Camel cartoon, and the associated marketing ploys in the form of Joe Camel cards and memorabilia, subliminally target children in an attempt to prime them to become future smokers?
The Joe Camel cartoon advertisement debate continued in the United States for nearly a decade, only to come to a sudden conclusion in 1997. R. J. Reynolds Tobacco Company claimed they discontinued the ads because they simply wished to move on to another campaign. The Joe Camel controversy will likely remain a pivotal example of the complicated relationship between advertising and illicit substances for decades to come.