Pre-Market Testing of Plain Packā€¦ | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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1. Introduction

Pre-market testing was undertaken by Australia to find the most effective design elements of plain packaging for tobacco products and more recently Canada has also commissioned pre-market testing. These included testing for:

  • Pack color
  • Font style, size and color
  • Cigarette size and color

Pre-market testing is an important part of the evidence base for policy implementation. The Australian research provides the evidential basis for the pack design that has been used by every country to have implemented plain packaging so far:

Pantone 448C – with grey Lucia Sans (or similar) typeface at point 14 for the text of the brand name.

The Canadian research supports the findings of the Australian study on pack color.

Note – the colors as depicted on this webpage may appear different from the actual colors used in the tests due to way they are reproduced on computer screens. Pantone provides a system of accurate color reproduction for printing purposes.

Austrailian Flag


The Australian Government commissioned market research in 2011 from GfK Blue Moon to identify the

  • candidate colors for plain packaging;
  • the font and font size for brand name; and
  • graphic health warning design

that would minimize appeal and attractiveness, whilst maximizing perceived harm and the noticeability of the graphic health warnings.

Download the full report

Overall Outcomes
  1. A Dark Olive color is the best candidate for plain packaging. That color performed better than other test colors as being the least appealing as well as containing cigarettes perceived to be more harmful, of lower quality and harder to quit.

  2. A font size of at least point 14 (based on Arial or Lucida Sans) should be used for the brand name.

Report Summary

Six separate studies were conducted and then a further two online surveys undertaken to address additional objectives.

Study 2 assessed a variety of pack colors. Figure 1 shows the range of pack colors tested for. The Dark Brown color (number 8) pack was shown to be the least appealing, contain the lowest quality cigarette, and have the cigarettes most harmful to health. That color was taken into next stages of research.

Study 3 considered font style and font size. That study used the Dark Brown and Mustard colored packs from Study 2, and sought to find the smallest font size and style that could be easily read at a distance of one meter. Figure 2 shows the test sheets.

This study found that a font size of at least 14pt should be considered using the Dark Brown packs with an Arial or Lucida font style (on the Mustard colored pack, a font size of 16pt was necessary for legibility at one meter).

Study 4 sought to identify the pack color which was most unappealing between the Dark Brown (from Study 2) and a lighter Mustard color requested by the government, when combined with Graphic Health Warnings. Again the Dark Brown, color best matched the criteria as the least appealing overall. Responses also showed that with testing on the computer screen, respondents perceived a ‘Dark Olive’ rather than Dark Brown.

Study 5 used printed packs with Dark Brown, Dark Olive and Light Olive with various sizes of Graphic Health Warnings. From the results of this study, the Dark Olive color, or Pantone 448C, was recommended to take forward as the color for plain packs. It had no positive associations and was viewed as ‘death’, ‘dirty’ and ‘tar’.

Figure 1
Figure 2

Canadian Flag

3. Canada

In 2016, while considering plain packaging, the Canadian government commissioned research to give greater insights into the packaging and product elements that will have the greatest impact on the appeal of tobacco in the Canadian context, and in particular, Canadian youth. The studies started with qualitative work in focus groups which led to quantitative studies through an online survey of 1,778 residents.

Download the full report.

The studies sought to identify the least attractive color for tobacco packaging, as well as the way in which specific health warnings were perceived when combined with the different colors tested. In addition, different cigarette sizes, colors and filter types were tested to see which was the least attractive.

Overall Outcomes
  1. In quantitative testing, irrespective of health warnings, Pantone 448C was selected as the least appealing color.

  2. Youth consistently are more attracted to packaging that uses bright colors in branding elements.

  3. Youth are more apt to have their attention caught by cigarettes that are in colors other than white. White cigarettes are familiar and have a negative connotation. Branded cigarettes are seen as more appealing.
  4. The findings consistently demonstrate that plain packaging of cigarettes, and white unbranded cigarettes have the least appeal, noticeability, and attention-grabbing elements for youth and young adults.

Pack Colors

The range of pack colors and the health warnings they were tested with are shown below in Figure 3 and Figure 4.

Figure 3
Figure 4

In research groups, Brown A was disliked by all youth and adults. However, in later online testing Brown B (Pantone 448C) was seen as the least appealing overall. The green, blue and red colors were seen as most eye catching, appealing and curious. Beige and brown packs were consistently less appealing.

Irrespective of health warnings, Pantone 448C was selected as the least appealing color overall. 

The Canadian research therefore reinforces the original Australian research that a dark olive brown is the least appealing color for tobacco packs and most suitable for meeting the objectives of plain packaging.

Cigarette Size and Color

Respondents were shown five sizes of cigarettes and asked which catches their eye first:

The results of this test were inconclusive. None of the age groups tested found any preference on cigarette size.

Cigarette color was also tested with the sample colors shown below.

Yellow ochre

The results of the survey showed that:

  • Youth and young adults are more likely to find the colored cigarettes eye catching.
  • They are less likely to find a white cigarette appealing.
  • Youth and young adults are more likely to report that the yellow ochre and brown cigarettes make them curious about what it is.

White cigarettes are familiar and have a negative connotation.

Branding on Cigarettes Sticks

The survey groups were asked to rate cigarettes with different brand markings on them.

White with mark
White without mark
Cork with mark
Cork without mark

The results of the survey showed that:

  • A very strong preference for branded cigarettes.
  • Sticks without a brand seen as least appealing and were described as: “Natives”, Homemade, Cheap and Budget Cigarettes
  • Little preference difference between filter color; but regional preferences apparent