Farm Aid

If you’ve been out to a show, club, bar—or hell, just outside your house lately—and you live in an urban area and are a certain kind of person (say, tattoo-having, or pierced)—you’ve likely been offered the exciting opportunity to receive, free of charge, a few boxes of Camel cigarettes. By some funny-colored-hair dude. Just for writing down your email address.

It’s led to some disturbing conversations in my circles, especially as I’ve rather struck up a friendship with the funny-colored-hair dude, who, owing to his lax attitude as regards the limits on the number of packs he gives out, genuinely sees his work as helpful to the community. Who would otherwise, he argues, be spending their money on these things.

Well, of course the kid’s shilling for big tobacco, problem one, to a community not known for its access to health facilities, problem two, and not owning up to it, problem three, and somehow thinks he’s bucking the system by giving away extra free packs of the smokes, which is likely all a part of the strategy in the first place—in other words, Camel predetermined his mode of dissent and worked it into their marketing plan—problem four. Yet more disturbingly, and more recently, RJ Reynolds has instituted the Farm, which seems to be a simple expansion of this dude’s approach to marketing cigs to other indie kids.

The Farm is a co-branding experience, an unpleasant situation in which the cigarette company showcases local “up-and-coming” bands, free of charge, in local venues, and sets up an elaborate tent inside these venues to give away more free cigarettes, branded CDs, and logoed stickers. (Note to the addicted hipster underagers: when I went to one of these shows, I wasn’t asked for ID at the venue door nor at the tent. Even weirder: there is no photography allowed inside the venue while Farm concerts are ongoing—not even by the bands themselves. This was so staunchly enforced at the show I attended, one viewer wondered if there were something illegal occurring. But Chicago’s smoking ban isn’t in full force yet, and I’m no cigarette cop anyway.)

The big names that play the Farm are unsurprising: Flaming Lips, Phoenix, G. Love and Special Sauce, The Black Keys, Dinosaur Jr, Dr. Dog, and Band of Horses. Whatever. Those guys, it could be argued, have names to fall back on. But the smaller names matter too: here in Chicago I caught The Its, Big Buildings, and Telenovela. I went to see these bands at their personal invitation. Which—like the show posters—gave no indication at all that I was about to enter Flavor Country.


The Farm’s approach to marketing smokes in an age when they are being heavily restricted in public spaces is exemplified by a recent Rolling Stone advertorial “fold-out poster” noted in this article, which seems to be causing a bit of controversy. Its uncanny similarity to “a cartoon” seems to be the basis for the balking, as cartoons are no longer allowed in cigarette advertisements (umm, because line drawings are thought to appeal primarily to youth, FYI). And although this particular section is arguably “editorial,” confusion nonetheless reigns.

Which seems to be the advertising strategy at play throughout the Farm campaign: confuse, confuse, confuse, hey! Let’s smoke.

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  1. Hey, I got back some info from one of the bands that did the Farm promotion I caught, and here’s what she had to say*: “basically [we] were looking for an easy place to do a pre-wedding show/party, and that weekend was the only time we could do it. we asked a few places including the darkroom because they ask us to play shows a fair amount and we’ve had a decent time playing there in the past (only on their thurs night music nights). they said that night would work out well, so we just booked it – later to find out that they’d guarantee each band $300. [our band] was just about to put out an album on vinyl and we kind of just accepted the cash since we had only like $600 in our band bank. they didn’t actually tell us it was for camel until after it was all set up and it was too late (and i didn’t have time or prioritize it with a wedding a week later) to see about doing it somewhere else without the retarded sponsor. that’s pretty much the gist of it.”

  2. * This asterisk was meant to convey that she was going to stay anonymous until I confirm it’s ok to “out” her here.

  3. ian says:

    someone just sent me this:

    “R.J. Reynolds: Print ads to end in 2008

    The R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. next year will stop advertising its
    brands in newspapers and consumer magazine titles. The company has
    weathered recent criticism over a Camel No. 9 campaign in fashion
    magazines and a four-page ad spread wrapped around editorial content
    in Rolling Stone. An R.J. Reynolds spokeswoman said the company’s
    marketing decision was not tied to the Rolling Stone flap, but
    indicated the company may have been at least partially motivated by
    the reaction to its Camel No. 9 ads. One anti-smoking group called
    the decision “more a strategy to deflect criticism than a real change
    in marketing.” The Washington Post/Associated Press (11/27)

  4. Ooooh. . . intriguing. Plus, I guess, if they’ve found a more effective way to put their products in the twitchy little fingers of smokers. . . (not that I was never one myself.)

    But does RJ Reynolds advertise enough that this’ll impact the print industry?

  5. ian says:


    “Today, an open letter to Rolling Stone signed by Kill Rock Stars, Touch and Go, Skin Graft, Lovepump United, Lucky Madison, the defunct 5RC, Audio Dregs, and Fryk Beat, was sent out by Kill Rock Stars’ Maggie Vail. It begins, “We, the undersigned independent record labels wish to share our indignation regarding Rolling Stone’s November 15th pull out editorial, which featured the names of our artists in conjunction with an ad for Camel cigarettes.””

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