Arts and Culture

Camel's appeal to hipsters is ironic, but not in a good way

Keeping in line with Camel's historically "urbane" branding strategy, the tobacco company has for the last few months been pushing a series of specially branded cigarette packs commemorating select cities known for their cool: Austin and Seattle, for example, have been highlighted. And while those cities have well known reputations for being hipster-friendly, yesterday, R.J. Reynolds narrowed its scope from hip cities to the most notoriously hipster zip code in these United States: Williamsburg, Brooklyn. Surprisingly, the package art features neither fixed-gear colorway bicycles nor neon Ray-Bans.

Admittedly, this advertising strategy is not really designed to appeal to me. It's designed to appeal to 14-year-olds who are young and dumb enough to buy into a multinational corporation's idea of what's happening with the kids these days, which is actually when Camel hooked me with their Joe Camel ads, back in the days when you could still blatantly market cigarettes to children with cartoons. A decade and a half later, it doesn't matter to me what Camel puts on its packs. They could put pictures of Patrick Swayze's late stage cancerous lungs or diseased skeletons vomiting blood on there, I'm going to buy them either way. I'm hooked. Their work here is done.

But it's still a dumb strategy, because nobody thinks hipsters are cool -- not even hipsters; hell, not even 14-year-olds. Calling somebody a hipster is like calling them an asshole, and while Seattle and Austin have a certain timeless cool to them, Williamsburg is like a hipster cesspool. Hipsters don't even like to admit they live there, lest they be called out as hipsters.

And that's the irony of this campaign. Setting aside the atrocious back-of-the-pack copy ("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. It's where a tree grows." Say what?), Camel has tried to appeal to a segment of the population that expressly despises being appealed to. The hipsters will buy them, sure, because they cost a dollar less per pack, and when you live in Brooklyn and cigarettes cost $12 a pack, you just save the fucking dollar. Then you throw out that lame pack and stuff all the cigarettes into a vintage Lucky Strikes box and act like you bought them at some Bed-Stuy cigarette truck where this guy buys them directly off the tobacco farm in Virgina and drives them up but you probably wouldn't know where to find it because it's pretty obscure, man, and he only comes at, like, irregular intervals.

The ultimate irony of hipsterdom is that it's about the quest for authenticity within a rigid framework of conformity. The important thing, then, is maintaining that fragile illusion of authenticity, and there's nothing to shatter it like some evil corporation pointing it out.