Tobacco Pack Branding - Theory and… | Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids
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1. Introduction

Packaging is used for marketing and advertising of most consumer products, including tobacco. If tobacco advertising and promotion tobacco are banned in all other areas, it is simply common sense to ban them on the packaging of tobacco products as well.

The tobacco industry claims not to target children or non-smokers with their advertising and promotion. This includes with the use of branding on packaging. In fact, the tobacco companies also claim that packaging has no role in advertising and promotion at all and that it has no impact on overall smoking rates.

This public position of the tobacco companies is contradicted by general marketing theory about the role of packaging as a medium for advertising and promotion. It has been rejected by courts around the world examining the issue. It is also contradicted by the internal industry documents that have been disclosed through litigation.

These pages provide details about marketing theory, evidence about branding on tobacco packaging and evidence from historical internal industry documentation that provides fundamental support for the need for plain packaging of tobacco products.

The tobacco industries’ position is that branding on packaging has no impact on smoking initiation. The companies’ views are set out in detail on the Opposing Arguments (and how to counter them) page of the Tools and Resources. Those pages draw on tobacco company submissions to government consultations and their court pleadings in legal challenges to plain packaging in the UK. The pages also contain the counter arguments to the tobacco industry position.

2. Marketing theory and the role of packaging

Tobacco packaging has a number of functions:

In addition to containing and protecting a product, packaging assists consumers in identifying brands and distinguishing between competing brands; encourages consumers to switch brands; launches new brands; and enables tobacco manufacturers to build and maintain brand loyalty and command a premium price for its products.1

Japan Tobacco International (JTI) in its response to the 2012 Consultation on Standardised Packaging of Tobacco in the UK, said:

businesses must be in a position to communicate to their customers ... JTI invests and innovates in its packaging design and quality in order to compete with other products available to existing adult smokers. JTI and other companies ... use product packaging in a myriad of ways, and this scope for creativity motivates efforts to differentiate the product from others.

The tobacco industry states that the packaging enables adults who want a particular product (i.e., tobacco) to make an informed decision about which brand to buy.

The advertising function of packaging:

In addition to the practical functions, research indicates that packaging is an important component of overall tobacco-marketing strategy.3 Tobacco packaging has multiple functions for tobacco companies beyond that of brand identification, navigation, and selection. Tobacco packaging is used to promote the product using the same strategies employed by manufacturers of other consumer goods. The slide below from a marketing management course shows how the advertising industry seeks to use packaging as a tool for promoting consumer products.

A slide from a Marketing Management MBA course demonstrates that it is standard practice to use packaging as advertising

The importance of packaging as part of the overall promotional mix is recognized in marketing literature:

Many of the standard marketing textbooks explain the importance of packaging as a key marketing tool.

For example, in Marketing Management, Kotler and Keller argue that the packaging is the buyer’s first encounter with the product and that good packaging draws the consumer in and encourages product choice. In effect, packaging can act as “five-second commercials” and is used to “convey persuasive information.” They also state that packaging updates and redesigns can have an immediate impact on sales.4

Kotler and Keller highlight the importance of color on packaging and the associations and meanings that different colors generate in different market segments. They reproduce the “Color Wheel of Branding and Packaging,” which sets out for instance, that “Red is a powerful color, symbolizing energy, passion or even danger” and “Green connotes cleanliness, freshness and renewal” while “White . . . connotes purity and cleanliness.” 5

In the textbook Strategic Brand Management Keller writes:

Structural packaging innovations can create a point-of-difference that permits a higher margin. New packages can also expand a market and capture new market segments. Packaging changes can have immediate impact on customer shopping behavior and sales. . . 6

It is noteworthy that Professor Keller was used as an expert by PMI in its legal challenge to the UK plain packaging regulations. His evidence was largely unchallenged by the UK government, and the Judge in that case found that elements of his report actually supported the case for plain packaging.7

Palmer’s standard textbook, The Principles of Marketing, states that packaging “act(s) as a promotional tool in its own right.”8

Underwood and Ozanne write that the “product package is the communication life-blood of the firm” or the “silent salesman that reaches out to customers.”9

In studies of tobacco marketing, Ford et al. say that it has been suggested that packaging should be the fifth “p” of the marketing mix model as it is the only element of the marketing mix intertwined with all of the other “p’s” (product development, pricing, placement and distribution, and promotion), and that it plays a key role in all of these strategic marketing areas. Indeed, highlighting the importance attached to packaging, it is positioned as a standalone marketing mix element, the fifth “p,” for British American Tobacco.10

When tobacco advertising is prohibited, packaging becomes the primary means of marketing:

As a Philip Morris marketing executive put it:

Our final communication vehicle with our smoker is the pack itself. In the absence of any other marketing messages, our packaging . . . is the sole communicator of our brand essence. Put another way — when you don’t have anything else — our packaging is our marketing.

3. Why tobacco packaging is different to packaging for other consumer goods

Tobacco packaging is defined as a “badge” product in tobacco industry marketing documents12:

Badge products enable elements of the brand image to be transferred to the user through public displays of the pack. This is especially applicable to tobacco as smokers keep their packs close by and reveal them countless times every day. Such behaviors expose other consumers to the brand — something termed “incidental consumer brand encounters (ICBEs)” by Ferraro, Bettman, and Chartrand (2009).13 These ICBEs can have a powerful influence on brand choice, even when the consumer is unaware of being exposed to the brand.14

Sir Cyril Chantler was provided evidence on tobacco packaging being a badge product during his evidence review. He stated that:

Public health experts argue that packaging of tobacco products is especially able to play a promotional role because unlike many other products, they are constantly being taken out and opened, as well as being left on public display during use [and] in this way cigarette packaging can act as an advertisement.15

In addition to public health experts, the tobacco industry has said a lot about the importance of tobacco packaging. An employee of Brown and Williamson was quoted in 1985 as saying,

. . . if you smoke, a cigarette pack is one of the few things you use regularly that makes a statement about you. A cigarette pack is the only thing you take out of your pocket 20 times a day and lay out for everyone to see. That’s a lot different than buying your soap powder in generic packaging.

According to Professor Hammond: Tobacco packaging serves as an integral component of tobacco marketing:

. . . the pack provides a direct link be¬tween consumers and manufacturers, and is particularly important for consumer products such as cigarettes, which have a high degree of social visibility. Unlike many other consumer products, cigarette pack¬ages are displayed each time the product is used and are often left in public view between uses. As a result, both smokers and non-smokers report high levels of exposure to tobacco packaging . . . .17

4. The relationship between branded packaging and tobacco consumption in young people

Take a look at this video, where children are discussing tobacco packaging. These children are primary school age, and tobacco branding on cars had already been banned for seven years by the time this video was filmed, yet they still associated Marlboro with Ferrari.

Evidence strongly indicates that tobacco advertising, marketing, and promotion 18 influences youth smoking:

In 2009, the Public Health Research Consortium (PHRC) in the UK published a review of young people and smoking19. The review found that the onset of smoking is a function of individual factors (e.g., self image), social and community factors (e.g., family circumstances), and societal factors (e.g., tobacco marketing). Interventions, therefore, need to address all these domains.

One of the conclusions of the PHRC’s review was that “tobacco marketing continues to be a major problem. Notwithstanding the proven success of the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion [laws], tobacco brands are still influencing youth smoking. The key remaining transmitters of this branding are point of sale (PoS) presence and the pack.” The review found that the tobacco industry is exploiting the pack as a medium for advertising the product and reinforcing the brand. It was concluded that generic packaging is an essential next step (PHRC 2009).

The Chantler Review20 has an entire section devoted to reviewing the evidence on the question “Does branded packaging promote tobacco consumption, especially by encouraging children to take up smoking?”

His conclusion was that packaging does act as one of the factors encouraging young people to take up smoking:

In my opinion, the balance of evidence suggests that the appeal of branded packaging acts as one of the factors encouraging children and young adults to experiment with tobacco and to establish and continue a habit of smoking. As British American Tobacco Australia’s spokesman acknowledged in our meeting, tobacco companies, like other consumer goods companies, see branded packaging as one of the tools of marketing. This is supported by numerous internal tobacco industry documents. Although the tobacco industry says that the purpose of branded packaging is to encourage brand switching only, they cannot explain how it would only ever attract switchers from one brand to another, and would never encourage initiation from non-smokers or increased overall consumption. Further, they have not been able to explain why, given that advertising and promotion are proven to increase tobacco consumption, the related marketing tool of branded packaging (referred to by Japan Tobacco International’s counsel against the Australian Government as their mobile “billboard”) should so differ in its effect.

He described the evidence regarding the tobacco industry’s attempts to make packaging appeal to different sections of the population, including young adults, and considers that a “spillover” effect is likely:

I have seen considerable evidence of tobacco companies carrying out market research on all aspects of packaging (e.g. colour, size, shape and opening) to make it appeal to various target groups of young adults. In my opinion a “spillover effect” (as described by tobacco control experts) is extremely plausible, whereby packages that are meticulously designed to appeal to, say, an 18 year old, are highly likely to appeal to a 16 year old. Because 16 year olds look up to 18 year olds and want to emulate them, in my view it is not possible to design packages in such a way as to appeal solely to one group without also appealing to the other. Research looking at the link between branded and innovative packaging and childhood and young adulthood smoking susceptibility bears this out, describing an “inevitable knock on effect” of targeting product design at young adults.

The involvement of tobacco companies in orientating marketing activities towards young people in the United States was described by Kaufman et al:

The tobacco industry states that its purpose in tobacco marketing is to maintain brand loyalty and not to encourage adolescent smoking, arguing that susceptibility to cigarette use is chiefly the result of influence by family members and/or peers. The documents released as a result of the Minnesota lawsuit and the Master Settlement Agreement between state attorneys general and the tobacco companies confirm that the tobacco industry cultivated the youth market. These documents reflect the tobacco industry's recognition of the 14 to 18-year-old consumers as a growing segment of the smoking population critical to the industry's long-term performance and profitability.21
Young girl with a packet of chewing gum and a packet of cigarettes. Which is which? The spillover effect is clear.

On tobacco promotion and packaging, the US Surgeon General summarized evidence in 2012 and 2014 and concluded that, “The evidence is sufficient to conclude that advertising and promotional activities by the tobacco companies cause the onset and continuation of smoking among adolescents and young adults.” 22

Chantler believed that the evidence shows that, more specifically, branding can influence consumption of goods:

I find it significant that in other consumer goods markets, where children can safely be allowed to participate in experiments, it has been proven that appealing branding does influence consumption. . . . Clearly, given the risks even of being exposed to tobacco marketing, let alone experimenting with smoking, it would never be possible to gain ethical consent for similar experiments with tobacco products. However, lessons can be learned from the experiments that have taken place in different contexts.

Kaufman et al. found that exposure to tobacco advertising and promotion not only increases an adolescent's knowledge of cigarettes, but also increases susceptibility to tobacco use and the likelihood of experimentation and initiation.23

Moodie et al.24 summarized the different research undertaken on tobacco advertising and smoking uptake by young people and found that:

Although, the tobacco industry vehemently denies targeting young people, internal tobacco industry documents from the United Kingdom, United States and Taiwan reveal that it does, and indeed that tobacco companies depend on the youth smoking market for their long-term survival. Research has consistently revealed that tobacco advertising and promotion increases the likelihood that adolescents will start to smoke . . . Furthermore, we know that tobacco branding is continuing to drive UK teen smoking even after [the advertising ban].

Conventional tobacco advertising is banned in the many countries in line with the FCTC Article 11. Branded packaging is therefore used by the tobacco industry to communicate information to consumers. According to Chantler:

Branded packaging is seen by the industry as an important way to communicate the quality and product characteristics to consumers, to encourage smokers to maintain their identification with their chosen brand. This appears to be particularly important in the absence of advertising or point of sale display. This is borne out by legal representatives of Japan Tobacco International in proceedings in the Australian High Court, stating that the Commonwealth ‘is acquiring our billboard, your Honour, in effect.’25

The evidence review prepared for the Irish Department of Health by Professor Hammond also concluded that:

Packaging has a powerful influence in establishing brand imagery and promoting appeal among youth and young adults — the critical period when the vast majority of smoking initiation occurs. Corporate documents from tobacco companies indicate that packages have been designed to appeal to “starters” as part of a deliberate marketing strategy to recruit new smokers. The evidence indicates that “plain” packaging is unequivocally less appealing and less socially desirable to youth and young adults. Plain packaging is also associated with less positive brand imagery, including smoker traits, such as cool, stylish, thin, as well as less desirable product associations.

5. Plain packaging “denormalises” smoking

If smoking is seen by young people as a normal part of everyday life, they are much more likely to become smokers themselves.

In its 2008 Board of Science Report Forever Cool, the British Medical Association suggested that:

The way tobacco is perceived and how this integrates with self image is a crucial determinant of youth smoking. With the exception of tobacco marketing, these influences are often subtle and unintentional. The combination of circumstances prevails to create an environment in which both the prevalence and acceptability of smoking become exaggerated and eases the transition into the habit.

Social norms were also suggested in 2012 by the US Surgeon General as being important in influencing smoking by young people:

Peer influences; imagery and messages that por¬tray tobacco use as a desirable activity; and environmental cues, including those in both traditional and emerging media platforms, all encourage young people to use tobacco. These influences help attract youth to tobacco use and reinforce the perception that smoking and various forms of tobacco use are a social norm — a particularly strong message during adolescence and young adulthood.

The benefits of shaping social norms on smoking could be dramatic, with research suggesting that if the average individual’s views on the social acceptability of smoking changed to more closely resemble the views of Californian residents,28 there would be a 15 percent drop in cigarette consumption.29

Hoek et al. defined “denormalization” and discussed how standardized packaging could be an element of such a strategy:

. . . tobacco “denormalisation”, exposes tobacco as a toxic product peddled by an unscrupulous industry and undermines the social cachet of smoking. Denormalisation reframes smoking as socially unacceptable and challenges the connotations of glamour, sophistication and ruggedness that tobacco brands have used to attract young people. Over time, denormalisaton reduces smoking’s aspirational attributes, undermines the value tobacco brands deliver to smokers and reduces tobacco consumption.
Plain packaging extends this approach by moving beyond smokefree social marketing campaigns to focus directly on tobacco packages, which represent a tangible symbol the emotional benefits smokers derive from “their” brand. These measures reflect increased knowledge of the role that packaging plays in promoting smoking, the meticulous research undertaken into branding by tobacco companies, and the tobacco industry’s growing reliance on packaging as a promotion as traditional mass media becomes more restricted.30

6. Packaging and smokers’ identity

Branding enables tobacco manufacturers to sell status, social acceptance, and glamour, rather than use a mere nicotine delivery device:

Marketing and retail academics and packaging experts have shown how packaging can heighten product appeal, create positive impressions, make emotional connections, influence product perceptions and choice within the store, aid purchase decisions, and help “drive the sale.”31

Marketing theory explains how brands function by linking aspirations, attributes, and values to products and services, which consumers buy as much for their symbolic value as for their utility. Smokers use the symbols and imagery evoked by brand attributes to construct and communicate an identity.

Analysis of tobacco industry documents highlights the crucial importance of branding on packaging as a medium to communicate brand attributes:

Cigarette packets are meticulously researched and designed, their livery reassures smokers about the risk, and their brand imagery reinforces smokers’ self-image. Tobacco packaging thus ensures smokers and potential smokers receive messages that promote smoking.32 Other industry documents reveal the importance of creating favorable brand image, with one document setting out that, “In the cigarette category brand image is everything. The brand of cigarettes a person smokes is their identity. Cigarettes tell others who they are as a person.”33

JTI’s Glamour super slims cigarettes and B&H slide packs from Austria 2012-2014 demonstrate the use of brand imagery on packs to sell social status

As tobacco is a relatively homogeneous market with little functional difference between cigarette products, branding is strategically important as the predominant means of product differentiation. Pack designs are created to facilitate the adding of value to brands, primarily through the use of imagery and association. Things like pack opening, size, shape, and graphic design are aimed at communicating to the market the type of customer you imagine would smoke a certain brand.34 Brand choice has little to do with the actual cigarette but with linking the cigarette to the aspirations of the smoker or potential smoker.35

Quantitative research from Australia has recently confirmed that reducing strong brand identity can lead to reduced smoking behaviors. A study of 178 Australian smokers rated their sense of identification with fellow smokers of their brand, positive brand stereotypes, quitting behaviors and intentions, and smoking intensity, both before and seven months after the implementation of plain packaging. Analyses showed that smokers, especially those who initially identified strongly with their brand, experienced a significant decrease in their brand identity following the introduction of plain packaging and this was associated with lower smoking behaviors and increased intentions to quit. The findings provide the first quantitative evidence that brand identities may help maintain smoking behavior.36

7. Branding on Tobacco Packaging is Intended to Mislead Consumers

Tobacco companies have made extensive use of tobacco packaging to convey misleading information about the relative harms of different brands. The use of descriptors such as “light,” “mild,” and “low tar” and how this misleads consumers have been reviewed and extensively documented.37 Equally well known is that “lower tar” cigarettes are not actually lower in tar but cause the same harms as regular cigarettes. These health reassurance brands have the psychological effect of convincing smokers that they are less harmful, leading to them swapping brands instead of making quit attempts. The FCTC Article 11.1(a) requires parties to ensure that packaging does not mislead or create erroneous impressions and recommends banning those terms — to date at least 79 countries have prohibited descriptors such as “light,” “mild,” and “low tar.”38

However, research in Australia and the UK, where these terms have been prohibited, suggests only modest benefits in reducing false beliefs about the risks of different cigarette brands.39 This marginal impact is likely due to greater color segmentation and the substitution of other misleading terms, such as “smooth.”

It is also well documented that when countries have banned misleading descriptors such as “light” and “mild” these brand variants were replaced with color descriptors, such as “gold” and “silver” with the pack colors and branding remaining identical.

It’s very difficult for people to discriminate blind-tested. Put it in a package and put a name on it, then it has a lot of product characteristics.

A booklet distributed by Philip Morris’s Canadian subsidiary, JTI Macdonald, similarly describes the replacement descriptors following the ban in Canada. The page shown here described how the banned term “Lights” on the Camel and Winston brands would be replaced by “Blue” with no other change to the overall branding.

“It’s very difficult for people to discriminate blind-tested. Put it in a package and put a name on it, then it has a lot of product characteristics.”
Pack color is used to mislead consumers about the harms of tobacco.

Industry documents describe the specific importance of pack color in shaping consumer perceptions of risk. For example, British American Tobacco’s Research & Development group summarized principles for effective pack design and noted that:

Lower delivery products tend to be featured in blue packs. Indeed, as one moves down the delivery sector then the closer to white a pack tends to become. This is because white is generally held to convey a clean, healthy association.41

Different shades of the same color and the proportion of “white space” on the package are commonly used to manipulate perceptions of a product’s relative strength and potential risk.

Industry research demonstrates that the color and design of the package are so effective that they even influence sensory perceptions from smoking a cigarette. For example, when consumers smoke cigarettes placed in lighter-colored packs, they perceive these cigarettes to taste “lighter” and less harsh than the same cigarettes presented in darker-colored packs.42

Anchor brands

Extensive research on “anchoring” shows that the presence of an anchor brand against which brand variants can be compared (either physically or in people’s minds) leads to distortions in perception and judgment. For instance, the presence of fried cheese bites as an anchor leads people to judge a cheeseburger as a more healthy option because it benefits from a contrast effect. Brand variants such as Marlboro “Blue” and “Gold” are contrasted against the parent brand/anchor Marlboro “Red” and are incorrectly seen as lower risk products. Therefore, the presence of a full flavor/higher tar parent brand together with its brand variants (positioned to be at lower risk on a health continuum) strongly promotes increased, and false, health reassurance owing to contrast-based distortions in perception and judgment.

8. The Tobacco Industry's Public Position

Does tobacco packaging encourage smoking? The tobacco industry’s view

The tobacco industries’ position on whether packaging encourages smoking or not is set out in detail on the Opposing Arguments (and how to counter them) page of the Tools and Resources. That section draws on tobacco company submissions to government consultations and their court pleadings in legal challenges to plain packaging in the UK.

In brief, the tobacco industry claims not to target children or non-smokers with their advertising and promotion. The tobacco companies also state that packaging has no role in advertising and promotion.

They seek to blur or ignore the overwhelming view of marketing theory and evidence that advertising and marketing affects overall consumption of a product. The tobacco companies take this view publicly despite all the disclosed internal tobacco industry documents that demonstrate a contrary view is held within the companies (see below).

Tobacco companies argue that branding on packaging only promotes brand switching by current smokers and has no effect on overall primary demand. They state that branded packaging does not cause people to start or continue smoking.

The tobacco industry claims that there is evidence that factors other than branded packaging are the real drivers of smoking initiation.

The tobacco companies’ position on branding has been rejected by courts in many countries, most recently in the UK by the High Court judge hearing the legal challenge to plain packaging regulations. He stated:

This argument is unsustainable. It is not possible to design a product to appeal to adults (over 18s) without appealing, even inadvertently, to children. A number of the tobacco companies have strenuously denied that they target their product on children or even that they are interested in the impact of tobacco on children. But the Government medical advisers all say that, targeted or not, the lure to children remains strong and this is plain and obvious to the manufacturers.44
Displays of attractive tobacco packaging act as advertisements and are regularly and deliberately positioned adjacent to confectionary and toys in retail outlets and airport duty free stores.

9. Tobacco industry documents: the importance of packaging in promoting tobacco

Internal tobacco company documents provide consistent, unambiguous evidence that packaging is an effective tool to recruit new smokers:

Millions of these “internal” documents have been released through court disclosure requirements in various legal proceedings over the past twenty years. Most documents span the period from the 1950s through 2009 and represent an important source of information on business practices, marketing strategies, and internal research and development activities. These documents provide evidence that packaging is an effective promotional tool for communicating brand imagery and is intended to be part of the mix of promotional activity designed to recruit new smokers.

Extensive research has been undertaken by academics into the evidence from the tobacco industry. A published review by Cummings et al. of such documents concluded:

Industry documents show that the cigarette manufacturers carefully monitored the smoking habits of teenagers over the past several decades … The documents reveal that the features of cigarette brands (that is, use of filters, low tar, bland taste, etc) packaging (that is, size, colour and design), and advertising (that is, media placements and themes and imagery) were developed specifically to appeal to new smokers (that is, teenagers).45
Professor Hammond’s review of tobacco industry evidence

Professor David Hammond of the University of Waterloo produced a report commissioned by the Irish Department of Health - Standardized Packaging of Tobacco Products: Evidence review (March 2014) - which includes the results of research into these industry documents. See the pages on the Research Evidence in the Tools and Resources for information on this report. Professor Hammond’s research highlights that the tobacco industry knew that packaging was a highly effective marketing tool to attract new smokers, especially young people.

The following is an extract from Professor Hammond’s review (emphasis added in bold and footnotes removed for ease of reproduction). Download the full report.

" Packaging is an important component of the overall marketing strategy for consumer goods. Packaging is particularly important for consumer products with a high degree of social visibility, such as cigarettes. Unlike many other consumer products, cigarettes are contained in packages that are displayed each time the product is used and are often left in public view between uses.

Tobacco industry research and marketing documents unequivocally demonstrate the importance of tobacco packaging as a marketing tool. For example, a recent presentation to global investors identified packaging and limited edition packs as a key component of industry innovation and growth. A variety of documents also discuss packaging within the context of recruiting new smokers. For example, a summary of consumer product testing prepared by Philip Morris stated: “Advertising, packaging, price can get people to try a product . . .

A review of marketing for Marlboro Red and Marlboro Lights highlights the role of packaging in brand communication, as well as how packaging strategies can help address challenges in recruiting more ‘starters.’

Corporate documents indicate that the importance of packaging increases in jurisdictions with comprehensive advertising and marketing restrictions, such as [Australia, Ireland, France or the UK]. As a BAT marketing executive put it, ‘Our final communication vehicle with our smoker is the pack itself.’

A BAT internal review of trends in cigarette packaging in the 1990’s predicted that: ‘Advertising and promotion bans and restrictions will rapidly increase. The pack will increasingly become the main communicator.’ An earlier BAT document from 1979 on new opportunities in marketing elaborated:

“Under conditions of total ban, pack designs and the brand house and company 'livery' have enormous importance in reminding and reassuring the smokers. Therefore the most effective symbols, designs, colour schemes, graphics and other brand identifiers should be carefully researched so as to find out which best convey the elements of goodwill and image. Where necessary, new designs must be created and tested so as to enhance and complement the identifiers. An objective should be to enable packs, by themselves, to convey the total product message.”

A 1987 summary of Philip Morris’s “International Social Acceptability Research” program also highlights the growing importance of packaging as a promotional tool: “The following key elements are of prime importance in the enhancement of the smoker’s self-perceptions: the package, including brand name, logo, colour, design, crest, box, soft pack, etc . . . . As media restrictions continue to increase in many major world markets, our packaging becomes increasingly important as: a vehicle for communication, a statement about the smoker’s personality and lifestyle, an expression of social acceptability.

[Tobacco packaging plays a fundamental role in communicating brand imagery]. For example, a confidential document from BAT’s Group Research & Development Centre, describes the central role of the pack in conveying brand imagery: “Historically, cigarette pack design has assumed a great deal of importance in the marketing process. This is because brand imagery is salient in the mind of the consumer . . . . Much of the imagery has traditionally been developed through advertising. However, it has been understood that this imagery must be carried right through to the brand . . . . The main focus of attention, therefore, has been on the pack which carries the product.”

 Brand imagery is particularly important in targeting youth and young adults. In many cases, initial brand preferences are based less on the sensory properties of using the product than on perceptions of the package and brand:

“. . . one of every two smokers is not able to distinguish in blind (masked) tests between similar cigarettes . . . . for most smokers and for the decisive group of new, younger smokers, the consumer’s choice is dictated more by psychological, image factors than by relatively minor differences in smoking characteristics.” Tobacco company research indicates that brand imagery is critical to segmenting brands and targeting sub-groups, such as young women. “As in previous studies, the pack generated a very positive response from respondents. They praised it for its delicate prettiness and its classy femininity. And they were attracted to its “simple” and “clean” design . . . . The slim size of the pack was generally seen as clear benefit: it fits a woman’s hand better and takes up less room in her purse . . . . User Imagery: After viewing the pack and carton, respondents tended to develop the same general user imagery that has been found in previous studies. They see Capri as a cigarette that is unambiguously for women . . . . But when asked for specific imagery, they tend to imagine the typical Capri smokers as . . . tasteful and fashion-conscious . . . confident and independent.”

 Color is among the most important packaging attributes for establishing brand imagery. Tobacco companies conduct extensive market research on the effect of colors. For example, silver and gold can be used to convey status and prestige, particularly for “premium” brands. Red packages and logos can convey excitement, strength, wealth, and power, whereas pastel colors are associated with freshness, innocence, and relaxation, and are more common among brands that appeal to females. "

Conclusions and further resources

A useful and comprehensive study by Cancer Council Victoria of tobacco packaging in Australia before plain packaging was introduced explores the concept of packaging as a promotional tool and describes trends in the packaging of cigarettes and other tobacco products:

Packaging as promotion. In Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues46

There is sound evidence from wider marketing literature regarding the role of packaging in the promotion strategy for any consumer good. Evidence suggests that packaging and branding work hand in hand. Marketing theory explains how brands function by linking aspirations, attributes, and values to products and services, which consumers buy as much for their symbolic value as for their utility.

Tobacco packaging is different to packaging for other consumer goods. Tobacco packs are carried around by smokers and are on regular display. This makes the pack both a mobile advertisement as well as making a statement about the person who carries and displays it.

For tobacco, packaging is now a vital way for tobacco companies to promote their products, as legislation in many countries prohibiting tobacco advertising and promotion has closed down other promotional avenues. Tobacco companies have introduced many more brands variants once tobacco advertising bans have been put in place, and it is said that they have invested a great deal in bringing innovative and attractive packaging to the market. Tobacco companies contest this view, however, arguing that this is a known feature of consumer goods where the market is “mature, saturated and declining.” Tobacco companies also strongly argue that the branding on packaging is aimed at encouraging existing smokers to switch brands and that there is no evidence that it has any effect on initial take up.

Despite the vast sums of money invested in brands and packaging, the tobacco industry will continue to deny that packaging and branding have any effect on overall smoking rates; claim that the only purpose of branding is to identify and distinguish a product; and argue that branding only has an impact on market share

  1. “The Faber Report, The Role of Trademarks and the Brand They Represent – Report of Ronald J. Faber, Ph.D.” Appendix 9 to BAT’s response to the UK’s 2014 Consultation on Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products.
  2. Fast moving consumer goods.
  3. M. Wakefield. “The Cigarette Pack as Image: New evidence from tobacco industry documents” Tobacco Control, 11 (Suppl.1): i73-i80, 2002.
  4. Kotler and Keller, Marketing Management (14th edition), 2012, pp. 346–8.
  5. Ibid, p. 347.
  6. K. Keller, Strategic Brand Management, 4thedition, Pearson Education Ltd., 2013, p.165.
  7. R (British American Tobacco & Ors) v. Secretary of State for Health [2016] EWHC 1169 (Admin) at paragraph 752. Available from:
  8. A. Palmer, ed., “The product,” Principles of Marketing. Oxford University Press, London. 2000
  9. R. Underwood and J. Ozanne. ‘Is Your Package an Effective Communicator? A normative framework for increasing the communicative competence of packaging,” in Journal of Marketing Communication. 4(4), pp. 207–220, 1998.
  10. A. Ford, C. Moodie, and G. Hastings. “The Role of Packaging for Consumer Products: Understanding the move towards ‘plain’ tobacco packaging,” in Addiction Research and Theory. 20:4, pp. 339–347, 2012.
  11. M. Hulit. “Marketing Issues.” Corporate Affairs Conference. May 27, 1994. Bates: 2504015017/5042. Page 21. Available from:
  12. M. Wakefield et al. “The Cigarette Pack as Image: New evidence from tobacco industry documents.” Tobacco Control. 11 (suppl.1):i73−i80, 2002. Available from:
  13. R. Ferraro, J. Bettman, and T. Chartrand, T. ‘The Power of Strangers: The effect of incidental consumer brand encounters on brand choice,” in Journal of Consumer Research. 35, pp. 729–741, 2009.
  14. Ford et al. 2012.
  15. Paragraph 3.9, “Report of the Independent Review undertaken by Sir Cyril Chantler,” 2014, with quote from Wakefield et al. The Cigarette Pack as Image: New evidence from tobacco industry documents. Tobacco Control. 11(suppl.1):i73−i80, 2002.
  16. Brown and Williamson was an American tobacco company and subsidiary of British American Tobacco. Brown and Williamson Tobacco Corporation (1985). Untitled (Speech notes of a Brown and Williamson employee) Media release. No Date. Legacy Tobacco Documents Library University of California, San Francisco 1985. Available from:
  17. D. Hammond. “’Plain Packaging’” Regulations for Tobacco Products: The impact of standardizing the color and design of cigarette packs.” Salud Publica Mex. 52 suppl 2:S226-S232, 2010.
  18. Within this section, “tobacco advertising and promotion” uses the definition within the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control (FCTC) of “any form of commercial communication recommendation or action with the aim, effect or likely effect of promoting a tobacco product or tobacco use either directly or indirectly.”
  19. Public Health Research Consortium. A Review of Young People and Smoking in England. York, 2009.
  20. “Standardised Packaging of Tobacco: Report of the independent review undertaken by Sir Cyril Chantler.”Available from:
  21. N. Kaufman et al. “Predictors of Change on the Smoking Uptake Continuum among Adolescents” in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 156(6), pp.581–587. 2002.
  22. United States Department of Health and Human Services, Surgeon General, (2014). Surgeon General’s Report on Smoking and Health.
  23. N. Kaufman et al. “Predictors of Change on the Smoking Uptake Continuum among Adolescents” in Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine. 156(6), pp.581–587. 2002.
  24. Moodie et al. “Tobacco Marketing Awareness on Youth Smoking Susceptibility and Perceived Prevalence before and after an Advertising Ban” in European Journal of Public Health. 18(5). 2008.
  25. High Court of Australia Transcripts, Japan Tobacco International SA v. Commonwealth of Australia; British American Tobacco Australasia Limited & Ors v. The Commonwealth of Australia 2012, HCATrans 91 (April 17, 2012).
  26. D. Hammond. Standardised Packaging of Tobacco Products:Evidence Review. (2014)
  27. British Medical Association. Forever Cool: The influence of smoking imagery on young people. BMA, London, 2008.
  28. The adult smoking prevalence in California in 2011 was 11.9 percent. According to the California Department of Public Health, the California Tobacco Control Program was established by the Tobacco Tax and Health Promotion Act of 1988. The act, which was approved by California voters, instituted a 25-cent tax on each pack of cigarettes and earmarked 5 cents of that tax to fund California’s tobacco control efforts. These efforts include funding local health departments and community organizations, an aggressive media campaign and tobacco-related evaluation and surveillance. California’s comprehensive approach has changed social norms around tobacco-use and secondhand smoke which have produced dramatic results. 
  29. B. Alamar et al. “Effect of Increased Social Unacceptability of Cigarette Smoking on Reduction in Cigarette Consumption,” in American Journal of Public Health. 96:8, pp. 1359–1363, August 2006.
  30. J. Hoek et al. “Strong Public Support for Plain Packaging of Tobacco Products” in Australian and New Zealand Journal of Public Health. 36(5), 2012.
  31. C. Moodie et al. Plain Tobacco Packaging: A systematic review. Public Health Research Consortium. Available from:
  32. J. Hoek et al. “Effects of dissuasive packaging on young adult smokers” in Tobacco Control. Supplement published online, 2010.
  33. From C. Moodie et al., note 32, 2012.
  34. R. Borland et al. “The Impact of Structural Packaging Design on Young Adult Smokers’ Perceptions of Tobacco Products” in Tobacco Control.Published online, December 13, 2011.
  35. M. Wakefield et al., note 12, 2002.
  36. H. Webb et al. “Smoke Signals: The decline of brand identity predicts reduced smoking behaviour following the introduction of plain packaging,” 2017. Available from:
  37. National Cancer Institute. “Risks Associated with Smoking Cigarettes with Low Machine-Measured Yields of Tar and Nicotine.” Smoking and Tobacco Control Monograph 13 Bethesda: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, National Institutes of Health, National Cancer Institute, 2001.
  38. Figure derived from legislation database.
  39. R. Borland G. T. Fong , H. H. Yong, K. M. Cummings, D. Hammond et al. “What Happened to Smokers’ Beliefs about Light Cigarettes when “Light/Mild” Brand Descriptors Were Banned in the UK?” [RK: is this still part of title?] Findings from the International Tobacco Control (ITC) Four Country Survey. Tobacco Control 17(4):256-62. Available from:
  40. H. Aubin. “Are ‘generic’ packs cigarettes’ future?” Nov 8, 1989. Bates: 202338359. Available from:
  41. L. Miller. “Principles of Measurement of Visual Standout in Pack Design.” British American Tobacco Company Limited; March 18, 1986. Bates: 105364841–105364951..
  42. M. Wakefield, C. Morley, J.K. Horan, and K.M. Cummings. “The Cigarette Pack as Image: New evidence from tobacco industry documents.” Tobacco Control. (Suppl 1):i73–i80, 2002.
  43. See A. Chernev, “Semantic Anchoring in Sequential Evaluations of Vices and Virtues,” in Journal of Consumer Research (February 2011), JC-095.
  44. R (British American Tobacco & Ors) v. Secretary of State for Health [2016] EWHC 1169 (Admin). Paragraph 75.
  45. K.M. Cummings et al. Marketing to America's Youth: evidence from corporate documents, Tobacco Control 2002;11:i5–i17
  46. M. M. Scollo, B. Freeman, and E. M. Greenhalgh. “Packaging as Promotion. In Tobacco in Australia: Facts and issues. Melbourne: Cancer Council Victoria, 2016.