Cool New Device or Schizoid Cigarette?

Two words sum up what these cigarettes are all about: choice and novelty. They're the perfect brand for an airhead like myself; one who knows not what he wants from one moment to the next.

As a smoke, the flavor is that of a full-flavor Camel filter cigarette — however, implanted in the filter is a capsule of menthol liquid. Pinch the capsule between two fingers and "snap!" the filter is saturated with the menthol liquid and the cigarette is converted into a menthol filter cigarette.

Essentially the idea of a "convertible" cigarette enables the smoker to have two kinds of cigarettes in one pack (as well as two kinds of smoke in one smoking experience). For this writer, the menthol burst makes the last few drags on the cigarette, the harshest ones, go down smoothly.

History and Market Acceptance

The concept of a menthol capsule was first tested in Japan. Kool cigarettes featured the device in "Kool Boost" cigarettes, wherein the capsule was essentially a menthol "super-charger". Cigarette manufacturer R.J. Reynolds decided that they'd then add the capsule to Camels, in preparation for the device's U.S. roll-out. The first "convertible" cigarette was born.

A market research website points out that a product roll-out in Japan yields far more valuable market research than in the U.S., because U.S. smokers tend to be more brand-loyal, even to the point of 'looking a gift horse in the mouth' ("Back in the U.S., people will actually ask someone for a cigarette and then decline it when it’s the wrong brand"). Japanese tend to be brand-fickle, however, and were taken hook, line and sinker by the novelty of the convertible cigarettes with their novel flavor-change ability and distinctive "snap" capsule, as well as the two-for-one pack offers made with the roll-out.

The Japanese product test took place in 2008. As of this writing (Spring, 2009) Camel Crush is available throughout the United States.

The Internet website YouTube features videos of numerous tricks performed with the cigarettes, many recommending crushing the capsule and inhaling simultaneously to achieve a menthol "blast" while inhaling. A lot of emphasis is put on hearing the "click" sound of the capsule as it breaks.

Camel's marketing slogan, "Squeeze, click, change" echoed President Barack Obama's platform of change during his '08 run for office. R.J. Reynolds distributed buttons with the three-word slogan as part of the marketing effort.

If the Internet buzz is any barometer of the acceptance of Camel Crush by the U.S. market, then the brand has obviously gained a good foothold therein. The YouTube folks filmed themselves taking the cigarettes apart and examining the bright aqua-colored menthol capsule. They've filmed themselves performing tricks with the cigarettes. A website dedicated to smoking marijuana features a thread which asks (and answers) the question, "what if I put the menthol capsule in my bowl?" (You don't want to; the capsule's made of plastic, and we don't want to ignite plastic, now do we?)

The Word "Crush" as a Powerful Marketing Tool

As a lifelong student of marketing and its role in popular culture, I was fascinated by the value of the word "crush" as a powerful attraction to potential buyers. The successful brand that first came to mind is Orange Crush brand soda. The word could be construed as evoking refreshing taste (yeah, I'd have a field day with this in focus groups).

The second, more subliminal use of the word "crush" would be the kind of crush one has on a person. Whether it's a schoolyard crush or a mature unrequited love, a crush can be a powerful emotional condition. Call me crazy but I think those tobacco folks were crazy like foxes when they agreed to call these cigarettes by this name.

Finally, in the event one really wants to change one's mind about the cigarette yet again, you can indeed change back to non-mentholated flavor. The filter has a perforation in the paper just forward of where the capsule lies. It's possible to tear off that portion of the filter that has the menthol in it and therefore 'convert' the cigarette back to a regular full-flavor cigarette. Now excuse me, I'm off to see my analyst.


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