Australia Errs by Banning Cigarette Package Branding

by Gregg on December 1, 2012

Wow … out of Australia comes this story, which discusses a new law that goes into effect today banning branding on cigarette packs.

See the photo? (Credit to Reuters, BTW.) That’s what a cigarette pack will now look like in Australia. Some packs will have "pictures of ill babies and diseased body parts," the story says. This is for all brands, as I understand it. All packaging will look the same, so there will be little to no brand recognition, outside of the brand and product name in a uniform font.

The law is designed to stop youngsters from smoking. Sadly, I don’t think it’s going to work – kids are going to smoke if they want to, and especially if their parents, relatives and friends do. And they are going to get their hands on branded cigarettes, which will be even more valued because they’ll be perceived as "the real thing."

What’s more, social media could play a big role in giving cigarette companies and their brands an edge with the younger demographic. According to the story, Australia has banned cigarette ads from television and sports sponsorships, leaving the web as really the only place a tobacco company can advertise. Interestingly, the Sydney University researcher quoted in the story noted that she’d seen an uptick in glowing cigarette product reviews posted on Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. The question is, of course, who posted them? Hmm.

I’ll admit right now that I smoked for a few years in college, some 20+ years ago. I’m glad I quit, but like probably millions of other kids, I started smoking to rebel a little and because a lot of my friends at the time did, and I wanted to fit in. Then it just got to be a bad habit, and I was driven more by the physical action of smoking – maybe the enjoyment of lighting up with my friends – than the brands I smoked, which were more predicated on the money in my pocket than the brand itself. (I wonder what neuromarketing guru Martin Lindstrom would say about that …)

I do see how branding could play a role in legitimizing smoking among youngsters, but not the packages themselves. I used to remember seeing catalogs Marlboro would send out with actually some pretty cool products, like jackets and duffel bags, that were branded with the familiar red triangular logo. I never got anything like that because it just wasn’t me, or maybe what I wanted to associate myself with. I also remember the Joe Camel character, which I thought was silly, but was controversial because it might have been used to lure teenagers into smoking; to its credit (I guess), R.J. Reynolds voluntarily dropped that campaign in 1997.

I just find it hard to believe that eliminating brand recognition will influence kids not to smoke. I think there is so much more than branding here that needs to be addressed; parenting, for one, along with retailer education and more inclusivity at schools to keep kids involved in positive activities and thus away from negative influencers.

But let me know your thoughts in the space below. Do you think the Australian government is doing the right thing? Why or why not?

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