Health consequences associated with smoking tobacco products are thought to cause around 5 million deaths a year worldwide. Despite this chilling statistic, tobacco companies continue to reap staggering profits. One suspected cause of their continuing prosperity is the effective branding and marketing of cigarettes. Companies will market their cigarettes to appeal to specific groups of people. Smokers identify with a brand and will typically interact with others who smoke the same brand, and over time will come see smoking as an inseparable part of who they are as a person. Many derive a sense of belonging from smoking the same cigarette brand as those they interact with on a daily basis.
Australia decided to test this “social identity perspective” of smoking by introducing neutral, olive green packaging with a standard font and graphic images of the health consequences of smoking. Researchers studying the effects of this legislation in Australia found that there has been a decrease in the number of smokers from 15.1 to 12.6 percent between the years 2010 and 2013. This decrease can be attributed to the less appealing packaging, as smokers no longer associate brands with certain personality types portrayed by the company. In addition to the decrease in the total number of smokers, calls to organizations working to help people quit had also gone up in that period of time.
Cigarettes sold in neutral, non-branded packages are becoming more popular because it has been shown to reduce the “trendiness” or “brand-identity” of specific brands, encouraging less people to start smoking and more people to quit. Australia was the first country to introduce this type of legislation, but has been followed by similar movements in the U.K. and Ireland.
The decrease in smoking in Australia is a good indication that plain packaging is effective in eliminating the identity formation associate with certain brands. It demonstrates the power of brand-identity and highlights marketing strategies used by tobacco companies to successfully sell a product that has been proven to cause severe long-term health problems.
Chapman S Plain tobacco packaging in Australia: 26 months on Postgraduate Medical Journal 2015;91:119-120
(featured image courtesy of Pixabay, CCO)