Friday, March 17, 2006

Bugler RYO

Circumstantial evidence keeps illustrating the tenacity of brand life. An empty packet of Bugler® roll-your-own cigarette tobacco blew underfoot today during a neighborhood walk. Even after all these years, the three-quarter-ounce blue pouch, with “Ever-Fresh Papers Included,” is still around. You can buy it at most any store.

There is a superb webzine, RYO Magazine, from which some of this information comes.

Compared to machine-made cigarettes (called “tailor-mades”), traditional RYO brands like Bugler, TOP, Bull Durham and Drum have had a very long life. But in the opinion of the magazine’s editor, these brands are far less inviting and romantic in nature (and probably less well thought out) than their packaged counterparts:

TOP does convey quality as an adjective and Durham does place location within tobacco country, but what the hell Bull, Drum or Bugler have to do with anything remains esoteric to most. Now I happen to know some of the history of these names. For instance, Bugler refers to a time during the FIRST World War when our servicemen were introduced to handrolling in Europe and developed a real taste for it.

Yet these brands live on, despite everything that the anti-smokers and their allies have done to kill them dead. Bugler’s still available in the pouch or in the tin, with the familiar blue background and the WWI scene on the front: the lone Army bugler standing before a row of Army pup tents, a small flag flying in the background. If you’ve never noticed it, I bet your fathers have, and your grandfathers.

Anti-smoking, litigation-heavy pressures have taken their toll, though. You won’t find the manufacturer’s name anywhere on the pouch (it’s Brown & Williamson, a division of British-American Tobacco – and you won’t find it on BATUS’s website either). Just the words “Turkish & Blended Cigarette Tobacco” underneath the soldier boy.

An interesting brand hint on the back, though, a line of copy: “A quality smoke since 1932.”

Wall Street crashed in 1929. By 1932, the number of unemployed Americans reached 13 million (10% of the total US population). Wages were 60% less than in ’29. At the end of July ’32, after camping for two months near the US Capitol in Washington, thousands of American military veterans demanding a bonus were attacked by police and US Army units commanded on the spot by General Douglas MacArthur. Two members of this “Bonus Army” were killed.

Times were tough. Men still wanted their smokes. If they couldn’t afford tailor-mades, they’d roll their own, and a tobacco whose name harked back to the glory days of the Doughboys, camp life and “Lafayette, we are here!” was sure to get their attention.

That’s one way brands get born. Who cares if it’s a cheap smoke: this one’s been around for almost 75 years.

PS: Click here to see a superb collection of old cigarette package art. It’s worth the visit.

RYO Magazine™ is a trademark of The Andromedan Design Company, and its contents are protected under all applicable copyright laws. Photo: Roll Your Own Tobacco Store.


susan Reeves said...

Love the Kentucky Winners packaging. I get designer higher from that.

Firestick said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Firestick said...

Richard hits with a sturdy but silken hammer the dilemma of branding. One can think of branding in much the same way as one thinks of a memorable melody (which tends to be scalular in nature). In the same way a good brand name needs to flow from the tongue; it needs to connect not only to the viewer but to all of its outstanding component parts as well. Whether you are talking about the latest, greatest vodka, or a tobacco brand like Bugler - with much more history as underpinning - the brand name must have relevance, at least for its time.

At RYO Magazine, the quote in the original blog was from an article we did nearly three years ago on that very subject. See

In the last decade, the appreciation for truly great tobaccos has increased markedly. These tobaccos, (not to be confused with manufactured cigarettes, which contain almost no real leaf tobacco - rather reconstituted chemical slurries made of tobacco by products and a lot of other things that have nothing to do with tobacco itself), are natural (or nearly so) products. *Read that last sentence again as it has a long but important caveat in parens.

The only flavorings are added in the curing process in the very best of them. Our point was that for these artfully produced products, their branding (brand name) should relay somehow to the prospective consumer their degree of quality as well as some imagery that allows the participant to enjoy (and understand) the fullest possible experience coupled with a moderate approach to consumption.

Like great wine, one does not get "drunk" on great tobacco. Each puff is savored. Tobacco that reaches that level of quality deserves naming strategies far better than generic terms like "Value Brand" or "Smoker's Best" and any plethora of similar names of that rude and generic ilk. Hell, most of us would not even buy a clothing detergent named "Washing Soap" even if it actually worked pretty well. Making and smoking one's own custom made sticks, using great tobacco and beautifully designed tubes, is a completely different experience than knocking back a pack full of pre-made brand name cigarettes. Consequently such an activity deserves some panache when branding the components that reflect a superior experience.

For example, the best injectors (the machine that fills the empty filtered tubes when making one's own smokes) have names like the Supermatic or Top O'Matic. Sounds more like a vacuum cleaner or a washing machine. So we had our readers submit names for various soon to be designed components which resulted in names like the "Excalibur" for a superbly designed, robust and long lasting injector. This name won that segment of the contest. Now I'd buy an Excalibur well before a Supermatic, but of course, only if it lived up to its rather high bandwidth name.

There is nothing mundane about smoking. It is serious business and while there are greatly differing views full of agendas from both sides on this subject, the fact is some humans enjoy tobacco and probably always will. Like any behavior with real or implied risk, one must be conscious and fully aware when they engage in it.

Branding and design as well as impeccable quality are an absolute necessity when choosing the tools of such personal choices. Whether it is tobacco, alcohol, handguns or fast cars, people who choose to enjoy such things need to know that the components they are choosing are made with the greatest care possible to accomplish the advertised result. The user needs to be assured that their powerful handgun is not going to blow up with hot loads, just as the sports car enthusiasts needs to know the design of the car from top to bottom can handle the stresses one may put on a high performance machine.

In the same way, if people are going to inhale particulate matter intentionally, they need reassurance that at least they are getting what they assume they are getting. Tobacco companies and Cigarette companies are not analogous. To help the consumer understand and be aware of these differences, both appealing and accurate branding is essential. In reality what should be necessary for the detractors of tobacco usage is to disclose the fact that all things that burn, create dangerous chemicals. It is a matter of dosage and presence of mind in all things risky whether burning wood, leaves, or hamburgers.

Bugler was right for its time and has since become a world recognized brand name. A product's longevity can provide that but many relatively fine products never make it because of poor naming strategies. A new tobacco introduced today with that name would likely not go far. And Bugler is not inexpensive nor does it reach the level of quality of quite a number of connoisseur level brands that cost no more. Smart branding can most definitely convince most of us of a product's quality, certainly at least until we try alternatives. And that is the real adventure for all consumers. Try everything - become an expert at least as it concerns your personal taste. We are all experts at something and we at RYO Magazine honestly feel that critical thinking wallows in a dangerously thick sludge in our culture today.

Next time you are in a market, look within each product category you are seeking and pay attention to the names and ask yourself how much your are influenced by the name alone. Then contribute to this blog. Though Richard and I have been in so-called creative businesses a long time, there are always great ideas that come from the most unexpected places. In fact most people who don't feel they are particularly creative, or have been told some such nonsense by friends and family, often turn out to be the true creators of the best things in life we all one day may enjoy.

Bob Fusillo said...

Bugler, in the immediate pre-WW2 years, as I vaguely remember,was a nickel a pack. We hid behind the the hill and rolled ( or attempted to roll)our own and smoked (or attempted to smoke) at least one before we scurried home by a circuitous and hence secret path.
It was advertised on the radio, but surprisingly no astute adman thought of preceding the ad with a bugle call.
There were little rolling gadgets - metal framed things with a rubberised cloth that formed the cigarette as you rolled it from one side to the other. Mine were always either too loose or too thick.
I have a vivid memory of Spanish men in the early fifties who shook a wad of tobacco into one hand, closed the hand on it, formed a curved shape in the paper with the other, and with one sudden plop dumped the tobacco into the paper. It always fit perfectly.
I had a prof in England at about the same time who rolled his own during lectures. Bits of tobacco spewed across the table, the paper was always so drenched in spit I was amazed the things would light. He stubbed them out on the table-top. By the end of the hour there was a pile of paper, tobacco and spit in front of him. One of the world's great scholars and one of the most grimace inducing