Updated: Aug 7, 2021
Tobacco giant Philip Morris Inc.—owners of the immensely popular Marlboro cigarette brand—briefed their ad agency to create a campaign that would anchor their product in the hearts and minds of their consumers. In 1954 the agency pitched the idea of the ‘Marlboro Man.’ Philip Morris loved it.
Using the iconic image of a lusty cowboy helped propel the brand to unprecedented levels, boosting sales from $5bn to $20bn in just the first 2 years. It is still regarded as one of the most brilliant marketing campaigns ever.
Losing chunks of market share to the irresistible cowboy, RJ Reynolds Inc.—another tobacco giant and owner of the Camel brand—responded with their own macho star, the ‘Camel Man.’ Portrayed as an unflappable hero, the ardent outdoorsman could handle any situation, no matter the challenge. Bit by bit, the Camel brand started to claw back market share.
Electing to go head-to-head with the famed cowboy, RJ Reynolds decided to launch an international competition based around their own iconic hero. They named it the Camel Trophy. Held annually over a 2-week period, the first event took place in 1980 in the jungles of the Amazon. As the competition grew in popularity, contestants from around the world were given Land-Rovers and sent into remote locations to test their skills. Working in 2-man teams (it would be a few years before women were able to compete), resourceful contestants vied for the coveted trophy.
Apart from requiring advanced 4x4 driving skills, competitors needed to possess mechanical skills, an aptitude for orienteering, exceptional fitness and endurance, 1st Aid, knowledge of rope work and, above all, resilience in the face of hardship.
Pictured here in our tuxedo jackets, me and my good friend Steve Gray celebrate our win in South Africa’s inaugural Camel Adventure in 1992.