Generic Smokes: Why Australian Tobacco Branding Initiative Might Not Work

By May 2012 tobacco companies in Australia will be required to package cigarettes in plain olive green packs with the name of the product and the maker written in a standard font. At the same time health warnings will increase from 30% to 70% of the surface. (See "Australia Plans Plain Packaging for Cigarettes" in The Guardian.) The goal of this move is to make smoking less attractive though I doubt that this will have much effect for three reasons.

First of all, smokers don't browse along supermarket shelves looking for an attractive package; normally they ask for a brand they have already chosen and in this choice they are influenced by the image of the brand more than the packaging.

Second, the box is important in a way because it is one way for people to show their choice to other people but when the product ships in plain green boxes it will not take long for people to think of marketing fancy boxes to keep them in. Moving the cigarettes to another box or slipping a sleeve over the green box will cover up the health warnings. Regulating this will be very complex if at all possible.

Finally, I am not convinced that putting cigarettes in a dull green box will make smoking uncool. I my experience it is much more likely that it will make dull green a very cool color in just the same way as ugly military colors are popular with some people because of their associations. And if this doesn't happen by itself I am sure that someone could help make it happen.

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