We Hear: Havas Chicago Creates Unit to Serve RJ Reynolds

By Patrick Coffee 


Team Detroit, Team Mazda, MAL, Commonwealth//McCann and Huge’s Elephant were each created to serve–or primarily serve–a single client.

We hear, though we cannot confirm at this time, that Havas recently joined that group by creating a unit dedicated to (or at least funded by) one account: RJ Reynolds, maker of Camel cigarettes and one of the largest tobacco companies in the world.


One thing is definitely true: Havas Chicago won the business in late 2014 but chose not to confirm that fact for obvious reasons. Before we ran a story about former AOR BFG Communications losing the account eight months ago, Havas said they’d get back to us on the RJR news. They did not.

But the rumors had been floating around for a while. Last July, Lewis Lazare of Chicago Business Journal asked Paul Marobella (who was then the president of Havas Chicago) for more info on the pitch and he simply said that “he expected to hear about the possible cigarette business by Aug. 1.”

In February, Marobella was promoted to CEO of the Havas Chicago Group, and he lists RJR as one of the agency’s top clients on his own LinkedIn page:

havas camel

Another fact: last summer Havas Chicago launched a new initiative/unit/entity called Havas Annex. A quick Instagram search tells us that Annex has its own office space, which first appeared as a location in late August of 2014.

So while we don’t know whether the Annex is all about promoting Camel cigarettes, it did come into existence at the very same time Havas Chicago won the business.

Here’s Marobella’s description of what Annex does:

havas camel 2

That’s very vague. But compare it to this passage from a study describing the work BFG and other agencies did for Camel:

“…RJR hired additional marketing firms brokering hipster aesthetics to young mainstream (hipster imitating) populations to smoke Camels, including BrainReserve (from 1996 to at least 2000), Gyro Worldwide, BFG Marketing and Kaart Marketing. Coordinating with these firms, RJR focused Camel’s image so its brand penetrated the hipster underground scene.”

In the early 2000s Camel was aligned with hipsters via several integrated efforts. Infiltrating hipster venues, creating an atmosphere of exclusivity and indulgence for hipsters and blanketing free alternative news publications with imagery invocative of hipster aesthetics all helped repackage Camel as an organic component of hipster culture.”

For the record, again, Havas tells us that they “don’t discuss clients,” which is not quite true. Coincidentally, they also can’t discuss Annex at this time.