You’d think it would be tough marketing a product that kills half the people who use it as directed. The fact that it’s the most addictive substance on the planet helps. Still, you have to get new customers somehow, when your existing ones die or quit. And that’s why the global tobacco industry has some of the best marketing people on the planet, who are fighting a desperate battle in Australia to hang on to their best remaining marketing tool – the brand.
Australia is pushing for plain packaging for cigarettes in brown packaging beginning in 2012. Each pack will include only graphic health warnings and the brand in black typeface.
The tobacco industry says that violates its trademark rights. Government attorneys say that’s nonsense. How important is this to the tobacco industry? Enough to pull out all stops. This from Australia’s ABC News:
The Alliance of Australian Retailers was then formed in August, purporting to represent thousands of ordinary shopkeepers. On the day the alliance was set up, documents show it became the instant beneficiary of millions of dollars from the world’s top cigarette manufacturers: Philip Morris – $2.1 million; Imperial Tobacco Australia – $1.08 million; and British American Tobacco – $2.2 million
One argument we keep hearing from the industry is that there is no evidence that plain
packaging works. In ATOD work, we often hear this argument: “there’s no proof that etc…,” which usually means that there’s plenty of research evidence, but the special interest refuses to recognize it. Of course, if there was no evidence that plain packaging works, then why is Philip Morris desperately fighting to stop it in Australia?
But there is research evidence dating back for decades that plain packaging works. I suggest Google scholaring plain packaging and tobacco. Also, Smokefree Action UK, has pages of evidence.
Here’s what marketing experts say about the cigarette pack:
- “It is the communication life-blood of the firm… the silent salesman”
- “It is a promotional tool in its own right”
- “It is a total opportunity for communications¦ a carefully planned brand or information communications campaign”
- “In this struggle to win over smokers, the pack and its messages have become increasingly important weapons.”
And here’s what tobacco industry analysts from Citigroup say:
“Plain packaging would significantly reduce the power of tobacco brands… The industry is so profitable only because consumers are willing to pay a premium of £1.50 for certain brands. We think this measure would cause a rapid worsening of the downtrading trend. Over time this would hurt profitability significantly.”
But the most important reasons come from the tobacco industry itself. Brands are crucial to getting new smokers.
“The teen-age years are important because those are the years during which most smokers begin to smoke, the years in which initial brand selections are made…”
1975 report from Philip Morris researcher Myron E. Johnston to Robert B. Seligman in the Richmond Times-Dispatch 05/09/98
The tobacco industry is fighting so hard because Australia is an educated, industrialized nation that’s in the forefront of tobacco control. Other countries will certainly follow suit – as they should – once plain packaging passes Down Under.