Plain packs for cigarettes a step closer

The Plain Packs Protect campaign we’ve worked on with the Smokefree has recently begun to gain serious traction at government level around the issue of branding on cigarette packaging.

The campaign highlights the effects branding has in influencing young people to take up the habit. We’ve helped Smokefree argue for stiffer regulation to remove branding and increase health warnings on cigarette packs.

In the UK, on-pack is one of the last bastions for tobacco brand promotions, which is why the cigarette manufacturers are fighting tooth and nail to protect it.

However, in April, the government’s Public Health Minister Jane Ellison told MPs that she was ready to draft plain packs regulations for a final short consultation. MPs would get to vote on the issue, she said, and the new laws would be in place before the general election in May 2015.

It’s an important indication that success is a big step closer.

Reasoned decisions

Bray Leino’s role with the Plain Packs initiative was to help bring the debate to as many people in the UK as possible, and ensure that those we engaged could give the campaign their support through full knowledge of the facts.

Our activity combined a number of marketing disciplines across advertising, experiential, digital and media buying, all parts of the integrated service we offer in-house. It garnered hundreds of thousands of sign ups to the campaign; delivering a clear and consistent message across live road shows, digital activity and outdoor advertising.

Through those channels we were able to engage over 212,000 people, and by delivering detailed information, allow them to make reasoned decisions on whether the evidence was strong enough for them to support the campaign.

Discussions around cigarette branding on-pack aren’t new. The idea of plain packs was first proposed in Canada back in the 1990s. But with hundreds of thousands of children picking up the habit in the UK every year, there’s a clear argument that branding clearly designed to appeal to younger consumers should be removed.

Packaging power

Cigarettes provide a great example of the subtle ability of packaging and design to influence the consumer. These techniques are proven in their effectiveness, and their use is well-documented in the tobacco industry.

Particular colours and visual cues are used on hand rolling tobacco pouches to convey 'more natural', 'organic' or 'healthier' qualities than standard cigarettes. It’s an aspect of cigarette packaging design we used to our advantage during our work on Smokefree’s “Wise up to Rollups” campaign, which targeted hand-rolled cigarette smokers in the South West.

Our more recent, hard-hitting TV spot was designed to highlight what smokers risk missing out on, resonating with not just the smoker, but their family members also.

The tobacco industry isn’t the only business to demonstrate that packaging aimed at a young adult audience can also appeal to children. There’s no great distance between the two audiences, and marketing designed to appeal to young adults will also invariably entice children that are aspiring to be more mature.

Does packaging design influence people’s behaviour? It absolutely does. Unfortunately, brand owners are often fully aware that their branding might be 'overseen' by this younger, 'illegal' audience. Should children be protected from this? Absolutely, no responsible marketer would disagree.


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