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Cigarette brands and the plain truth

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Cigarette packages have become the last bastion of advertising for cigarette manufacturers.

The new plain package cigarettes will be presented in olive green packaging, with the only visible logo a graphic health warning. The brand of the cigarette appears in plain type and small font.

Cigarette companies promote and sell through colours, logos and images. To this end, cigarette packets are designed to reassure smokers about risk and to reinforce smokers’ self-image.

Research has shown that changing the message, picture and colour of packaging has a significant influence over choice by younger consumers.

Importantly, the research showed that changing the size of the graphic warning picture, the size and number of brand elements, and the colour of the packaging has been linked to promoting cessation of smoking amongst young adult smokers.

The psychology of colour is important in the marketing literature. Large amounts of money are spent in getting the colour schemes correct for a brand name, and then protecting the colour scheme.

Think about the efforts Cadbury goes to in order to protect the colour purple. Research has shown that lighter colours (particularly white and light blue) are perceived as containing milder, smoother, less harmful products.

The research into cigarette packaging tested a range of colours, including a “poo” brown colour, which was to be used on the cigarette itself in addition to the package.

Far from being cool, the olive green colour is perceived as revolting, and combined with the graphic health warning, is seen as a deterrent by potential customers.

Manufacturers know that consumers will keep the packaging until the last cigarette has been consumed, and so the packaging acts as a constant reminder and awareness builder for the brand.

Bold, glossy colours, and embossed logos that signal royalty or high quality have been used previously. Traditionally, gold and black have been used to signal high quality upper class products. In addition, embossing a logo sends a signal of high quality to customers. Having a hard packet also sends a message of quality about the product, whereas the soft packets send a more feminine message regarding the product. Pale green sends a message regarding freshness, which is an interesting paradigm with regard to cigarettes.

A cigarette package conveys information about the product, and the user. For example, along with the associated imagery, John Player Special built an image of the cigarette for international playboys. Benson and Hedges played on the class element as did Dunhill, with a royal seal. Winfield Blue, however, took the blue collar angle and aimed at Blue Collar workers in Australia, choosing a very apt spokesperson, a younger Paul Hogan.

Camel cigarettes have embarked on protecting the brand name of camel, which is a strange association for a manufacturer of cigarettes. This has been taken by the antismoking lobby in America, who turned Joe Camel into Joe Chemo, the Camel brand icon hooked up to chemotherapy drugs via intravenous drip.

It has been demonstrated that if the package is changed to a large graphic health warning consumers feel less inclined to leave the packet on show.

This removes valuable advertising property for the cigarette companies, and further ostracises smokers, who are already forced outside to consume the product.

In order to overcome this negative environment, cigarette manufacturers have resorted to less traditional marketing avenues.

Firstly, product placement in movies and television shows, where actors smoke, and the cigarette packet is displayed prominently.

Other means include buzz, viral and guerrilla marketing, for example, when models handed out cigarettes at a fashion designer’s after party.

Most recently in Australia, smaller retailers have banded together to question the effectiveness of plain packaging on cigarettes. This is an attempt by big tobacco to control and sabotage the plain packaging debate.

The importance of packaging on the perceptions of the quality of a product and the desirability of a product is clear. The brand image of cigarette brands has been eroded over time, and the ability of manufacturers to use the package to promote brand image has been further reduced.

The anti-smoking lobby target young smokers and those under 40. It is felt that once you are past 40, the behaviour is so ingrained that it is difficult to change. This new campaign will reduce smoking rates in the new adopters and the non-hardened smokers, but will not change the behaviour of the long-term smoker. The campaign, along with astronomical price increases for packets of cigarettes, will have a strong deterring influence for those who are new to smoking or considering taking up the habit.


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