The Phil Silvers Show - Camel Ads



From the early days of radio it became apparent that the medium was an effective means of introducing consumers and manufacturers to each other. Within a matter of months US radio schedules were dominated by shows named for their sponsors - the Champion Spark Plug HourKing Biscuit Time etc.


The late 1940's and early 50's saw radio's dominance replaced by the emergence of television as the entertainment media for the masses. By associating a brand or product to a show, it became evident that substantial revenues could be generated.


In 1955 R J Reynolds Tobbaco agreed to a lucrative sponsorship deal with CBS for their forthcoming weekly comedy series The Phil Silvers Show starring Phil Silvers as Master Sergeant Ernie Bilko.


In 1913 Reynolds developed a great innovation - the pre-packaged cigarette. Until that time most tobacco users who smoked cigarettes preferred to roll their own, and there was thought to be no national market for pre-packaged cigarettes. Reynolds worked to develop a flavor he thought would be more appealing than past products, and created the Camel cigarette brand. The Camel name evolved from the fact that Reynolds used Turkish paper to wrap the tobacco.


It was a masterstroke worthy of the wily Sgt. Bilko himself and within a year of it's launch R J Reynolds Tobacco sold in excess of 400 million packs of Camel cigarettes.


It was during a private screening to a group of possible sponsors, that representatives from R J Reynolds Tobacco noticed that Phil (as Bilko) would use the cigarette to devastating effect. They particularly loved the way he clenched the cigarette in his teeth. By a strange coincidence Camel just happened to be Phil's preferred brand of smoke!


During their relationship with the show the Reynolds publicity department created an impressive array of adverts for the cigarette featuring Bilko and his cronies. Many of the ads were presented in the form of comic strips with narrative storylines and doses of Bilko-esque humour with artwork by artist Bob Bugg. Bugg's strips ran for over a year and he produced a new piece every two weeks.


The ads featured in many popular magazines of the day sucs as LIFE and WOMAN'S DAY and used a mixture of comic-book and photo-realistic artwork to devasting effect. Hand-in-hand with a series of filmed adverts and inserts the Camel brand raised it's already impressive sales figures.


When viewed today the ads maintain great warmth and charm and remain a wonderful example of pop-art culture. Many examples of the ads survive and can be readily found on popular sites such as Amazon and eBay. We present for you now a selection of those glorious adverts: