What Makes Johnny Smoke and Drink?


Cigarette-puffin' Joe Camel and the beer-swilling Budweiser frogs are highly memorable advertising characters–especially, it seems, among kids. Indeed, that's the major reason they've been attacked. But a recent survey of middle- and high-school students suggests that, despite their popularity with the younger set, the puckish figures are lousy pitchmen. Earlier this year, USA Today had pollsters from the Gordon S. Black Corp. conduct surveys with 534 teenagers in Philadelphia; Parma, Ohio; Henrietta, New York; and Amarillo, Texas, about brand preference in beer and cigarettes. Sixth-graders to high school seniors viewed television and print ads and responded to written questions; some students spent time in focus groups.

The results show high levels of brand recognition and approval among students: Fully 99 percent of the kids surveyed said they knew who the Budweiser frogs were, and 93 percent said they like the alcoholic amphibians "very much" or "somewhat." Joe Camel posted similar numbers. Ninety-eight percent were familiar with the character, and 65 percent liked ads that featured him.

However, such recognition and warm feelings didn't translate into sales. Budweiser, for instance, was "almost no teen's favorite beer brand." Instead, beer preferences were regional. Similarly, fewer than 20 percent of those polled said that Joe Camel would make them want to try the Camel brand, an assertion supported by the fact that Marlboro "is by far [teenagers'] favorite cigarette brand. In every city, teens who smoked overwhelmingly favored Marlboro."