Removing the Shelf Appeal of Tobacco Packaging: Will it Snuff out Tobacco Use?

by Theresa Christine Johnson on 08/28/2017 | 7 Minute Read

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Packaging sells products. It's a fact. Studies show around 50-60% of purchasing decisions are made at the store shelf. Point-of-Purchase Advertising International combined with other academic studies says this percentage is based on the feeling and interaction the consumer has with the packaging while shopping. Therefore in effort to reduce the temptation of purchasing tobacco products, such as cigarettes and chewing tobacco, various countries around the globe have started to introduce a standardized package design that is highly unappealing.

The individual packages will be stripped of their brand, colors, fonts and imagery we have grown so familiar with—eliminating the very items that help consumers identify one tobacco product over the next.

The new standardized packaging will adorn the color Pantone 488 C, opaque coushé, also know as "the ugliest color in the world." It was reported by a consumer panel that this color easily represents death. In combination with the deadly opaque coushé, will be a variety of disgusting photographs of negative effects from using tobacco; like diseased lungs, rotten teeth, etc. Next, are the various health warnings that are written boldly in black and white, like "Smoking Kills." The only way left to identify a product one from another, is the name of the brand and the type of product it is. Even this information is stripped of its familiar logo or typeface, and instead utilizes a standardized font.

This is, by far, the ultimate self destructive package design the world has ever seen. It seems fitting, though, for it to contain one of the deadliest retail products—one that consumers have slowly self-destructed themselves with for ages.

Can you imagine a package of candy with images of rotten teeth, full of cavities? Every time you picked up the package, the sound of a dentist’s drill would go off. This packaging update would encourage me to skip the candy next time, even though it’s next to impossible for me to resist the temptation of eating candy.

In 2012, Australia was the first country to introduce standardized packaging to tobacco products in order to reduce tobacco use, especially within the younger generations.  There has been reported success in delaying the average start-up age of tobacco use, along with several reports of reducing sales all together.  

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In the 50s and 60s, there were tons of cigarette advertisements. Many at the time were promoting the good and healthy benefits of smoking. Such as utilizing it as a dietary aid or to reduce stress and calm down. It was also important for some brands to promote how their product was a healthier choice over the other. Provided that they caused less irritation and coughing. Who knew smoking could be so healthy?

Fast forward to the 70s and 80s. The day and age where it was all about the pleasure of smoking, better taste and being cool. Smoking had never been sexier than in the 70s. It was all about pure enjoyment, not health. The 80s embraced the peer pressure approach by encouraging everyone to join "the cool crowd."

The 90's were the highlight of consumer engagement. In 1988, Camel launched a cartoon character named Joe Camel to represent the brand, he was later featured on his very own Camel Cash. These notes were used to buy Camel branded items like koozies, lighters and t-shirts, all featuring the iconic cartoon character. Meanwhile, the Marlboro man was also encouraging smokers to collect Marlboro Miles in order to purchase Marlboro Gear. These gimmicks kept consumers brand loyal, but they also were seen as a way to build interest from the younger community. The 90s were also the end of the right to freely advertise tobacco products in the United States and many other countries. In 1997 Joe Camel was put out of commission. This decision to remove Joe Camel from the Camel cigarette campaign started the tsunami of removing tobacco from any advertisements on TV, billboards, magazines and more, to prevent the younger generation from becoming interested in smoking.

Then came the 2000's, a new generation that was not targeted daily with ads from the big brand tobacco companies. Cigarette ads were replaced with health warnings, showing the terrible truths of smoking. During after school specials on TV, commercials were shown of people with breathing tubes, rotten teeth and hair loss from cancer treatments. It was officially no longer cool to smoke. Yet, so many were already addicted and the brand experience remained with us all.

Brand owners invest endless amounts of time and money to deliver iconic brands, memorable packaging with a personalized brand experience. Then one day, the right to do so is gone. What is left to sell the product? Let's take a look at what some store shelves currently look like across the globe.

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In the US, standardized packaging has yet to take effect. Although advertising outside of the cigarette counter is restricted these days, there is still a lot of influence in regards to the brand and product offering within the point of purchase displays.

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Bulgaria, introduced standardized packaging and the tobacco industry responded with a savvy method to make their products regain their shelf appeal. The brand owners are providing retailers with a small card that is placed at the front of the cigarette pack display. The card encompasses the brand as it was intended to be, in turn reviving its shelf appeal while conforming to the laws.

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The standardized packaging requirements provide minimal interference with duty free store fronts, where tobacco products are sold in bulk. A health warning may appear on a portion of the secondary package, but the remainder of the carton still maintains the brand. Camel continues to champion in the consumer engagement category.  They have provided smoking lounges within various airports to give smokers a cozy place to relax and enjoy a cigarette between flights.

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Norway has found a clever way to defeat the tobacco industry point of purchase advertisements all together by installing cabinets that hide the product until a customer requests a purchase. Some locations house a vending machine that you select your product of choice without seeing any branding at all. Even with these precautions put in place, Norway also has intentions of deploying the standardized package to cigarettes and chewing tobacco.

When the brand experience fades over time, and the packaging becomes so offensive that one can hardly stand to look at it, will smoking become a thing of the past? Are the deadly and addictive contents so incredible, that new users will continue to give in to the temptation without any shelf or brand appeal?

One thing is for sure, smoking has become less and less acceptable in our society—there is no more smoking on planes, in the office or restaurants. Movies and TV have refrained from including cigarettes in every scene. As a whole, we have all become more aware of the harmful side effects caused by tobacco use. Now, packaging will continue to warn users of the terrible impact the product can eventually have on one’s life.

The power of shelf appeal is incredible. Especially, in how it can make or break a sale. Only time will tell if standardized packaging is enough to snuff out tobacco use.


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Dustie SandstedtDustie Sandstedt, is a packaging fanatic and the founder of Creative Jean.  After graduating from The Art Institute of Pittsburgh's Industrial Design program, she pursued her career in product and packaging design. Her natural ability to develop memorable brands, conceptualize retail ready packaging and bring her ideas to market, was undeniable.  Her designs are considered "fun, functional and fabulous."  Her innate passion for the package industry motivated her to dive deeper into packaging, by working with Fortune 500 companies in the packaging supply industry, as well as with Consumer Packaged Goods.Located in Norway, Creative Jean services clients on a global level with branding, packaging and marketing design solutions.  Understanding packaging from inside out, is what makes Creative Jean a unique design solution for both CPG's & B2B packaging solutions.

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