In case you missed it, Britain is currently engaged in a debate over the merits or otherwise of legislation that will force cigarette manufacturers to package their products in plain brown boxes.

I heard the subject being aired last week on TV when a marketing “expert” was asked by a sceptical presenter whether the move is likely to have the intended effect.  The expert replied that it might make a small difference, but it wasn’t going to convince people to give up.  Now, pardon me, but I think either she or I missed the point here.

Firstly, there’s a limit to the influence anybody can have on existing smokers.  Smoking isn’t a habit, but an addiction that education isn’t going to have much impact on and in this context packaging even less.  However, I find it hard to belive that the folks responsible for the anti-smoking campaign haven’t worked out they’ll get a quicker return on their investment by focussing on preventing people from becoming smokers in the first place and in this respect, packaging is very influential.

This being so, the packaging idea makes a good starting point for anybody seeking to reduce the number of smokers.  Smokers are largely brand loyal and once hooked they’ll buy their favorite whatever the packaging.  Sure, nice packaging may help maintain the “Brandship”, but we’re not talking about brand-switching here and the box really comes into its own in attracting newcomers to the world of the weed.

For as long as I can remember, tobacco manufacturers have invested millions in package design – Why? Because it works!  Generations of smokers have been lured by attractive packaging, but while the packaging that wins a smoker in the first place has done its job for the brand, it has, in the process, also added to the smoking community.  The thought behind the idea of brown box packaging surely isn’t to persuade smokers to give up, but to reduce the appeal to, largely young, non-smokers who are more susceptible to the lure of packaging?  On that basis the plan gets my vote.

Michael Weaver
December 7, 2010

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