RJ Reynolds will take on the No. 1 brand in the land, Philip Morris’ Marlboro, by rolling out Camel Turkish Gold this month.

The extension, a variation of its Turkish and domestic tobacco blend, boasts a smoother,more aromatic smoke versus leading brands like Marlboro, per consumer testing.

RJR obviously plays up Camel’s Turkish roots to exude its exotic equity and a point of difference from the Marlboro Man and other competitors. Packaging sports mettalic gold high-lights with the camel icon fronting a watercolor-like village scene, with pastel green palm trees exuding its premium status and mystical aura.

“It’s good that they keep coming up with new products to keep up with their competitors,” said Jack Maxwell, analyst with Davenport & Co., Richmond, Va.

Creative still was being developed by Camel’s core agency Mezzina/Brown, N.Y., so whether Camel Turkish Gold will adhere to the “Pleasure to Burn” print campaign launched late last year is unclear. The details, however, will incorporate Camel’s exotic heritage, per a company rep. Direct mail and POP efforts will also support.

Though a budget was not available, Camel spent $44.3 million last year vs. $77.9 million in 1998. “Pleasure to Burn” rolled in November with the quarterly magazine, CML, and limited edition smokes like Camel Twist spiked with citrus, Crema (vanilla), Samsung (with a delicate, fragrant leaf) and Rare (a blend made with the premium 1% of the finest tobacco).

Those limited extensions, packed in tins, are only available via mail order. While RJR’s annual shipments declined last year, as did the rest of the industry, Camel gained during the second half. Marlboro slipped 6% to 152.8 billion sticks.

PM is copying other manufacturers by offering two free packs of Marlboro to consumers who buy three during an April promo.

Separately, No.4-ranked Lorillard, maker of Newport, Kent, True and Maverick, will drop couponing in favor of buy-downs–cash paid to retailers for passing lower prices to consumers.