An indication of marketing’s value: The plain packaging tobacco controversy

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tobacco images
What happens when you remove any positive branding/imaging and require 'plain packaging' without logos? Sales decline, drastically.
tobacco images
What happens when you remove any positive branding/imaging and require ‘plain packaging’ without logos? Sales decline, drastically.

If you’ve ever wondered if marketing energies and initiatives are worthwhile, an experiment in negative marketing in Australia, that is spreading through the western world, will give you some relief, unless you happen to be a tobacco distributor.

Regulatory authorities have been chipping away at the tobacco industry for decades. Advertising is highly restricted, if not outright banned, and in Canada, massive ugly labels showing the harm tobacco does must dominate the packaging for the product, which can only be sold behind closed counters (no visible displays).

Australia has taken things a step further. The packaging must be plain and there must be no branding/logo for the different tobacco products. Just the words. And cancer-fighting advocates say the results have been impressively successful.

Canada’s PostMedia newspaper chain interviewed Kylie Lindorff, chair of Cancer Council Australia’s Tobacco Issues Committee, about the experience in her country, where it was introduced in 2012. She said:

Plain packaging has been incredibly successful at reducing smoking rates in Australia even in these early stages of its implementation. The Australian government’s post-implementation review found that plain packaging has been responsible for a quarter of the total decline in smoking prevalence since being implemented, resulting in 108,000 fewer smokers in Australia. The report states the effect is likely understated and is expected to grow over time.

The only vocal opposition to the new rules has emerged, not surprisingly, from the tobacco industry, whose representatives allege that the new measures are adding to the  underground economy and have failed to deter youthful smoking. (There are some statistically insignificant numbers, anti-tobacco advocates indicate, that may show a slight rise in young smokers, but these they say don’t represent the overall decline in tobacco use.)

In this blog, I’ll stay out of the issues of whether governments and regulators should engage in this form of social engineering, but turn the story on its head:  If redesigning the marketing message so that the only possible product images you can see are truly negative, what happens?  Indeed, people stop using the product (which in the case of tobacco, is most likely a good thing, considering its undeniable harmfulness.)

We can conclude (yes, these points are obvious, but in context, consider what happens when we cannot apply these concepts in our businesses):

  • Logos matter;
  • Package display counts;
  • Graphic/photographic images can make a product/service alluring and enticing;
  • Making it easy to purchase will cause more people to purchase; and
  • Deliberately restricting/designing things to do just the opposite will, in fact, achieve the desired negative results.

Marketing matters. It is worthwhile studying and improving our practices and techniques. We will achieve more business. And we should be thankful that we are free to explore and develop our marketing capacities, unlike the tobacco industry.

Do you think we can learn from the tobacco industry’s marketing practices — and restrictions? You can comment on this post, or email buckshon@constructionmarketingideas.com.

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