The University of Surrey - or rather a PhD student they have just taken on - decided to look at cigarette adverts from 1950 to 2003. They concluded that packs have become far more glitzy than the bland boxes of yesteryear so are therefore a sinister plot by the tobacco industry to ensnare new smokers. Surrey Uni's Jane Ogden explains more.
Michaela Dewe - my PhD student at the University of Surrey - has just published an analysis of 240 print adverts randomly selected from the years 1950 to 2000 that appeared in the UK. The findings are pretty clear. Early adverts focused on men, women (even children), fun, health and the outdoors and the box was pretty much absent.
But in later years as policies began to limit their advertising possibilities the box became more and more present; a dominant feature in the ads. So by the time all they had left was a box, everyone everywhere knew what each hint of colour or flash of word meant and the branding was complete.Here is a perfect example.
Oh, sorry. I don't know how that got there, because we all know, don't we, that only tobacco companies have changed their advertising methods since the 1950s to better emphasise branding. It hasn't been a shift in the advertising of consumer goods across every industry at all. How silly of me.
Anyhow, Jane carries on:
So can these boxes encourage people to change brands, to smoke more or even to start? We don’t know and have no hard evidence in our favour. But walk round any town centre and see how many people wear the adverts for their favourite brands splashed across their chests or stamped on the side of their trainers. “Gap”, “Superdry”, “Nike”, “Adidas” to name but a few, know that getting their consumers to be branded is far better advertising than a static billboard or a briefly flashed TV advert. Some people are seen as “cool”, “my age”, “at my school” and others will buy into what they buy.So let's get this straight. Every industry from coffee to chocolate to clothing manufacturers value their brand, and therefore tobacco companies must be stopped from using theirs. Well that's a new one. It's like pointing at magpies and saying that cows should be banned cos they're kinda the same colour.
Still, apart from this Chewbacca defence, we're still no nearer any proper evidence, as Jane has already admitted and confirms later in the piece.
Our research doesn’t show that a branded box changes behaviour.Which would kinda be the point if you're going to conclude that legislating for plain packaging is essential, doncha think?
But bit of common sense and a quick wander around the streets, while pondering the question “why don’t the tobacco industry want plain packaging”, seems a pretty good indication that plain packaging probably does.Yes, tobacco companies - just like Nescafe, Bisto, Lynx deodorant and Kelloggs bloody corn flakes - believe that their brands are trusted by consumers and hope their product will be chosen instead of a competing one. That's the entire point of branding, as I tried to explain to Phil Rimmer, ASH's Business Manager (an ironic job title, I thought, considering he seems to know little about how business works) at Stephen Williams's Lib Dem Voice article last month.
Cigarettes are not like bread, just like bread is not like wristwatches and wristwatches are not like torque wrenches. But bread manufacturers will package their bread to attract attention to their bread instead of someone else’s bread; wristwatch makers will make their watches attractive to draw customers to their wristwatches instead of another company’s wristwatches, and torque wrench manufacturers will use innovative design elements to make their torque wrenches the choice of torque wrench users over and above the torque wrenches made by other torque wrench manufacturers. In that, tobacco companies are clearly acting no differently than companies in every other industry on the planet.
If any other industry was banned from advertising anywhere at all, the only way they would be able to increase market share to satisfy their shareholders would surely be reduced to solely making their product the most innovative/tasty/attractive/flashy/prestigious (delete as applicable) on the market, so that people who buy bread/wristwatches/torque wrenches will buy theirs. It’s hardly surprising, then, that tobacco packs have become more attractive – perversely, it’s because your previous successes have created them. That, and the fact that packaging technology has advanced so rapidly in recent years that *all* packaging in *all* industries is flashier, more ‘glitzy’ even, in recent years. Just as production means that there are now dozens more lines in every market than there were ‘a few years ago’. Did you know you can even get 12 different types of Special K cereal now?With this in mind, the only way that Surrey Uni's research on the changing face of cigarette adverts could lead to a conclusion that plain packaging should be enforced would be if they found that the packs increased the uptake of smoking.
And what does the study itself say on the matter? Well, after looking at every tiny aspect of tobacco advertising over a 53 year period, the conclusion was unavoidable.
"There is no obvious association between changes in advertising strategy and smoking prevalence"Indeed, 'ickle Michaela even provided a handy graph to demonstrate this (click to enlarge).
Now, if you can find even a vague correlation between approaches to advertising, whether featuring the box prominently or not, and an increase or decrease in smoking, you're a better gender-neutral human than me Gunga Din.
The stark staringly obvious conclusion from the data exhibited, surely, should be that all these adverts merely shift consumers - that is, people who already smoke - from one product to another. Precisely what the tobacco industry has consistently claimed.
And yes, this is seriously the best these desperate people can contrive. Bizarre indeed, but the wait for proper (as in, not risible) evidence for plain packaging continues.