Sunday, May 29, 2011

Plain Ciggie Packaging

I saw this story in The Malaysian Insider on May 27, 2011 and I curled my half-frowning lips in a supercilious smile. I grimaced because the evil tobacco barons have now also realized that Malaysia is not very smart and they are looking for the country’s support! And they really believed that Malaysia can influence Australia! I don’t know where they got this half-baked idea but I suppose in their desperation, they are clutching at straws.

According to this news report, Big Tobacco is turning to Malaysia to help “fight Australia’s plan to introduce plain packaging for cigarettes, leveraging on Putrajaya’s negotiating powers which was boosted by the controversial refugee swap deal”. Okay, I am not intending to discuss if Malaysia did indeed demonstrate superior negotiating skills in this particular case because there were not enough details to make a judgment anyway.

The Australian government had announced last year that beginning July 2012, tobacco firms would have to use plain packaging carrying graphic health warnings and drop all color and branding logos from cigarette packets. Now, I have to give credit where credit is due! This is absolutely brilliant and ingenious! The move, said to be the world’s first, is to help Australia cut its smoking-related deaths to under 10 percent by 2018.

This news report quoted the Australian Associated Press (AAP) highlighting Friday that a former US ambassador to the WTO has been lobbying Malaysia to oppose the proposal and has even met with a Malaysian minister here on the matter. Peter Allgeier, who now works for Washington-based consultancy CMN International, had reportedly emailed the Malaysian government on this issue, urging them to persuade the Australian government to put off their plans. AAP also quoted Health Minister Nicola Roxon as saying that she had not been approached by Malaysia on the issue but Allgeier’s appointment to assist Big Tobacco showed how far the companies were prepared to take their fight.


Instead, she insisted that Australia’s plan has received much international support and that big tobacco’s “noisy huffing and puffing” was only making clear their fears that the measure would achieve its target.

I am excited about this plan because it goes back to the lessons in marketing. First, packaging is a “silent salesman" to the product. Can you agree that when you enter a supermarket or any store, the first product that will attract your attention is the product that has the enticing and seductive packaging? Right? And how many times have you bought products because the packaging was great? A lot of times! Even if the product is not the best in the market, you will still be entrapped because of the appealing packaging. That is the magic of packaging!

And when we put cigarettes in plain packaging, we are, in effect, stripping cigarettes of their social normality. By introducing plain packaging, smokers won't be walking past a shop and seeing their own brand. They will have to really focus and make a conscious effort to seek out the brand to which they have become loyal.

Second, branding is a powerful concept in marketing. A brand is the idea or image of a specific product (or service) that consumers connect with, by identifying the name, logo, slogan, or design of the company who owns the idea or image. Branding is when that idea or image is marketed so that it is recognized by more and more people, and identified with a certain product (or service) when there are other competitors offering a similar product (or service).

And when we talk of brand associations, we refer to these ideas, images and symbols associated with a brand or a brand benefit. I know, for example, that burgundy red is the color of a best-selling brand of cigarette in Malaysia. So, color matters. I also know that the cowboy is a familiar icon for another best-selling cigarette. Imagery matters. And I know too that “the refreshest” indicates yet another well-known brand. Words matter.




We all make these associations. But these associations get even stronger if it's a drug-related association because as Associate Professor Renee Bittoun, the head of smoking research at the Brain Mind Research Institute and the South West Sydney Area Health Service said, there is a neurochemical reward on offer (Webpage http://www.smh.com.au/opinion/politics/should-cigarettes-be-sold-in-plain-packaging-20110528-1f96b.html).

Big Tobacco is very alarmed by Australia’s courage to experiment this approach!

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