Can packaging save lives?: Thoughts on plain cigarette packaging
It’s not often that design finds itself in the mainstream media spotlight, but that’s what’s happened in the UK this morning. After extensive delays and conflicting claims about its potential impact, the UK Government has finally confirmed it will proceed with plans to follow in Australia’s footsteps by imposing plain packaging for cigarettes.
On a daily basis, we see first-hand the power of design, and in particular that of packaging, to impact consumers’ perceptions of a brand. But legislation has had the hands of tobacco brands tied for some time, and packaging’s role in the category is already minimal.
In the UK, packaging is already hidden from view. So the effect of plain packaging on the shopper is effectively nil. The loss of iconic brand graphics (and there are few more iconic than Marlboro’s chevron, or Lucky Strike’s target) might weaken brand affinity a little, but shoppers are used to habitually calling out their brand at the checkout.
Perhaps more impactful are the ugly colours, and uglier images. They can’t help but discourage smokers, but they too have been on packs for some time, and smokers have become adept at turning a blind eye to something they don’t want to spoil their cigarette.
So what impact will plain packaging have? It will surely help to reduce sales, but we should recognise that the role of design in this industry is already muted – indeed it’s been getting gradually more diminished for years. Ultimately, while this move might discourage new smokers, this is a category where the existing customers can’t stop buying the product. So while this might not be the straw that breaks Camel’s back, its legs are surely wobbling.