Why plain packaging for cigarettes is a bad idea

The UK is about to become the second country in the world (after Australia) and the first in Europe to enforce plain packaging for cigarettes. It is due to be implemented by 20th May 2016, although it doesn’t seem to have happened yet. I wrote about it here in 2011 and my view still hasn’t changed.

Plain packaging for Cigarettes in the UK
Plain packaging for Cigarettes in the UK

And I think it’s a bad idea for a few reasons.

  1. Taking away the branding will allow cheaper brands to compete on a level playing field with the big brands. Rather than making it less attractive they will make it more affordable. If you can’t see the difference in the packs and you’re new to smoking, why would you buy the bigger and more expensive brands?
  2. It will make it easier for fakes to come into the market as the packaging is even easier to copy. Fake cigarettes aren’t made to the same standard and could even be more dangerous and contain all sorts of additional nasties.
  3. You will make it cooler. It is now so obviously a bad thing that it becomes something that is more attractive to do. Anyone who has ever smoked, knows the dangers and ignores them. In Martin Lindstrom’s brilliant book Buyology he proves using brain scans that when smokers see the warnings on packs, rather than put them off smoking, it creates an almost religious like fervour. They become more desirable – despite all good sense saying otherwise. The more you try and drive it underground, the more prevalent it will become. As a parallel, it’s not exactly difficult to get hold of Cannabis these days and that’s meant to be banned altogether.
  4. It appears that the tobacco industry are going to take the government to court for loss of trademark value. According to the Telegraph, this could be for up to £11 billion.
  5. Smokers pay their own way – Because they kill themselves with smoking they have finite lives. they pay fortunes into the NHS through the taxes on cigarettes and on average, die much younger. The cynic in me says the government know this and by taking this route, they will maybe even make more money in tax revenue on smoking. The UK government take £11 billion PER YEAR from smokers. Are they really trying to kill this golden goose?

The only good plan (according to the Sun) in my mind is to ban packs of ten cigarettes and Menthol cigarettes. These are definitely entry products for young smokers. There will always be enterprising kids at school who will break bulk and sell singles (or loosies as they were in my day) but it will make smoking a little harder to start.

It’s only my view, but I am convinced I see more young people smoking than ever before. Putting cigarettes behind doors in the retail outlets doesn’t appear to have made any difference – It may even have had the opposite effect to the one they claim they were aiming at – And they are ploughing on anyway.

Branding is branding is branding

There’s nothing new in branding.

So what is branding?

Simple question really, but so many people seem to have a misguided opinion on what the answer is.

For us it’s a mark of distinction, it’s a promise of consistent quality, it’s way of speaking and it’s a guarantee that a service or product will be delivered in a way we expect.

But if it’s a mark of distinction, then isn’t this the same as the original term for branding? You know the one – where you put a big stamp on the side of a cow to show you own it and its part of your ‘tribe’ or herd.


Cows are for branding, Brands are for people
Cows are for branding, Brands are for people

Sticking marks on the side of cows was obviously where it started, but now people who wear overtly branded clothes, shoes and hang out in branded retailers are doing the same. They are saying they are part of the same branded ‘tribe’ or herd’ as everyone else with the same brand.

For us, this is a slight problem. Just putting big logos on things is not branding, it’s putting big logos on things. Creating a product that people want to be seen wearing or participating in, so others can see them doing it, is real branding – and its where the future lies.

I was given a ‘corporate gift’ this morning. A business card holder with a huge logo on the side and it is hideous. Not just too big and bulky to work a business card holder but of really nasty quality. How does this reflect on the quality of the client’s inward investment service? What is says to me is that they do things on the cheap, they cut corners and are happy to accept shoddy stuff to hang out with their brand and will only serve to damage their long term future. If you gave 1,000 of them out, no-one who you would want to be seen using it would ever dream of being seen using it. It’s that bad.

If, what you are doing, makes them feel good, then keep doing it. If, as Martin Lindstrom argues in his book Buyology, it causes us to think of interruption, annoyance and the wrong type of herd mentality like the Nokia ringtone that we all hate, then stop immediately.

The future of your brand depends on it.

 Thanks to Michelle Lyles for the Cow Photo

Martin Lindstrom – Buyology – Book review

There’s a lot to learn from this book, not least of which is the fact that conventional research as a predictor of potential buyer behaviour is on the verge of useless. What we say we will do, buy or watch is barely related to what we do in reality.

But our brain never lies.

Through a series of experiments, involving complicated brain scans, Martin Lindstrom proves that the only way to truly tell what we are most likely do in any given situation is ask a question and watch how our brain reacts.

A few other blindingly brilliant points that come out of this study for me.

The Nokia tune is really irritating and is having a negative effect on the brand, causing a ‘grinding down’ effect that is causing people to feel less comfortable when they hear the well known sound. But this is not the case with many other sonic brands that can cause a more beneficial effect on brand recognition and trigger positive reactions.

Sex doesn’t sell in advertising. Men see the sex and forget the brand, women tend to look at the woman for who she is and if they like them, there may be a positive effect, but more likely they just see the person and again forget the brand.

Branding that really works causes an almost religious like fervour in some of us. If we start thinking about how we can build our brands as religions then we have a better chance of understanding it form the consumers viewpoints. This doesn’t feel that different to Kevin Robert Lovemarks work but the fact that it is backed up with brain scan research, does add a huge degree of validation.

Overall, this is a great book that is pretty easy to follow, incredibly well researched and covers a lot of ground in an interesting way. It feels to be the biggest step forward in understanding buyer behaviours since the 1957 book by Vance Packard called Hidden Persuaders that I remember well for its utterly simplistic view on what causes impulse buying (as I studied this as part of my degree all those years ago)

Another best seller from Martin Lindstrom. Buy It here.

Discounting kills brands – you simply HAVE to add value

As long ago as 1994 when we were working for a world class Racing Drivers School at Donington Park in UK. They came to us with a problem of a winter course that was almost impossible to sell out and they wanted us to produce a flyer for them to help sell it at a discounted price of £1800 for the five day programme rather than the full price of £2500.

We talked them into an idea of offering an additional 15 hours of one on one instruction that had a perceived value of £1200 but an actual cost to the school of less than £200. Guess what? The programme became the most popular and sold out almost immediately.

We already suspected the power behind adding value but this was our first definitive proof.

Well this has now been confirmed by none other than Martin Lindstrom who is one of the most forward thinking of any current brand strategist.

His supposition is that discounting a brand will take SEVEN years to recover from as this is how long the cycle takes for it to be built back up to a brand that is valued.

If you look at the huge brands now literally dumping their products through the likes of TK Maxx in a desperate search for volume, I would have to ask whether they will even survive long enough to get to the end of that seven year cycle.

If you can buy a Calvin Klein jumper in TK Maxx for £25 in their traditional grey colour, why would you want to pay £100 and more, just to have it in a better bag – particularly when some would now be embarrassed to be seen with such a conspicuous sign of excess that a Calvin Klein bag represents.

So for us, the key for the long term success of any brand is to find ways of adding value to your brand.

Tony Parsons – who we have previously described as an unwitting brand guru in many presentations delivered over the years – writing in his book Man and Wife, was trying to establish why his parents had managed to stay married for so long. His Mum’s answer was simple

By learning to fall in love over and over again.

The same can be said for managing any great brand, because the best brands have an emotive element that people love over and above all reason.

An emotional brand gives their customers reasons to fall in love with them over and over again. They act as though they are in a real relationship with them and if they do it well and keep doing it well, they may be lucky enough stay in that relationship with them forever.

The secret seems to be to reward them, surprise them, say thank you, respect them and treat them as intelligent individuals. Just like in a conventional relationship, if you make more of an effort, you are far more likely to succeed.

So. Don’t discount. Delight instead.

This press release is online at Pressbox, which you can see by clicking here