work blog about search

De-branding cigarettes

So, this is interesting: an article in this weekend’s Observer suggests that the Department of Health is considering plans to force tobacco manufacturers to sell their cigarettes in plain unbranded packets.

The article is based on a DOH consultation document - the consultation ended on 8 September, and the findings are due back in about three months time (you should be able to find them on the response page of the DOH site around mid December). The document’s purpose was to work out ways to reduce the number of people smoking, to help smokers quit, and to stop kids from thinking that fags are cool, man.

Amongst its many suggestions and questions, the document asked:

“Do you believe that plain packaging of tobacco products has merit as an initiative to reduce smoking uptake by young people?”

They defined plain packaging like this:

“Plain packaging, also known as generic, standardised or homogeneous packaging, means that the attractive, promotional aspects of tobacco product packages are removed and the appearance of all tobacco packs on the market is standardised. Except for the brand name (which would be required to be written in a standard typeface, colour and size), all other trademarks, logos, colour schemes and graphics would be prohibited. The package itself would be required to be plain coloured (such as white or plain cardboard) and to display only the product content information, consumer information and health warnings required under the law.”

Which is fascinating. They’d be taking one of the most carefully branded products in the world, and de-branding it. And since they’ve already banned tobacco advertising, cancer sticks don’t really have much else left except their branding. They’d be stripping them back to just their name, taste and cost.

The document looks at the pros and cons of doing this, suggesting that on the plus side it would break the link between any old memories we might have from past advertising campaigns, but that on the down side, tobacco manufacturers might start to compete on price alone, so cigarettes would get cheaper (but they then note that they could just whack up the tax).

What’s the betting the tobacco companies are already looking at ways to make their cigarettes look totally unique in some new way - coloured cigarette papers perhaps, or coloured foils inside the packs... desperately trying to something, anything, to retain some semblance of individuality. Maybe they’d launch entirely new brands, where it was all about the name - perhaps using a really short name, or a really really long one...

Either way, it’s going to be really interesting to watch what happens. The Observer article says the DOH “received even more responses than the 55,000 it got before last year’s public smoking ban. Most respondents supported the plans, including plain packaging.” So it could happen sooner rather than later.

posted: 24 September 2008
categories: Graphics
recommended reading

Ace Jet 170
One of the finest individual design blogs (it’s been going as long as we have!) from Irish designer Richard Weston. Covering found type, print and stuff.

Casual Optimist
If you want to know what’s happening in the world of book cover design, keep an eye on this excellent blog by Dan Wagstaff.

Creative Review
Covering design and advertising, CR has been running since 1981, under the editorship of Patrick Burgoyne since 1999. Essential reading.

Daniel Gray
Dan writes a column in Creative Review, and this is his consistently entertaining blog about design and suchlike.

Eye Magazine
The best graphic design magazine out there, from editor John L. Walters and art director Simon Esterson.

Flat File
A fantastic collection of online publications based on pieces from the Herb Lubalin Study Centre.

Grafik is the brilliant online magazine about all things graphic design, from writers Caroline Roberts and Angharad Lewis.

Justin’s Amazing World
Justin Hobson, of Fenner Paper, is a bona fide expert on paper & print, and a charming chap to boot. His blog features in-depth analysis of the projects he’s worked on, including a few of our own.
One of the oldest blogs on the web. And one of the best.

Lecture in Progress
An invaluable collection of wisdom from a range of graphic designers, illustrators, photographers et al. From the team that brought you It’s Nice That.

Spitalfields Life
The anonymous Gentle Author of this wonderful blog has promised to write 10,000 stories about the life & culture of Spitalfields in east London, writing one story each and every day.

St Bride Library
The St Bride Library houses one of the world’s finest collection of books (& related objects) about printing and design. It also hosts unmissable design talks and events.

Styling and Salvage
Rupert Blanchard is a mate of ours, and makes great furniture. This blog covers his projects, interests, and life in Margate.
Brooklyn-based designer Khoi Vinh has been writing insightfully about design, technology and culture since the turn of the millennium.

The Ride Journal
A glorious mix of the very best writing and illustration about all types of cycling. On an indefinite break now, but you can download past issues for free.