THURSDAY 9 MAY 2013 10:41 AM


It may not star Colin Firth, but yesterday's royal address features a dramatic script. The annual Queen’s Speech discussed immigration, high-speed rail and asbestos. But what she did not address, and what may be dropped from the Parliamentary agenda this year is the pursuit of changing cigarette packaging from branded to plain.

Health advocates have been lobbying for plain packaging by citing the influence branding has on potential smokers.

Imperial Tobacco, British American Tobacco, Philip Morris and Japan Tobacco each spoke to the Government preceding the discussion of the proposal. Most addressed to the impact the packaging law could have on the UK economy in terms of job and revenue loss for British businesses. The Queen’s support of small businesses in the speech may take the credit for the tobacco lobby win. Department of Health discussions speak to the job losses that could occur if the proposed plain packaging were to be sourced from outside of the United Kingdom.

Cancer Research UK has made its feelings clear about the decision. CEO Dr Harpal Kumar says, “If the Government is serious about improving the nation’s health and stopping so many people dying early – which it says it is - it must reconsider its decision and push for the early adoption of standardised packaging.”

For the response of a packaging and branding expert, see breakout box below.

The Queen also omitted a plan for a statutory lobbying register on the 2013-2014 agenda. The CIPR, PRCA and APPC, who have been striving for the institutionalisation of the PR industry’s own efforts at lobbyist registration, were disappointed. They released a joint statement reiterating the importance for transparency in Parliament-lobbyist cooperations and reemphasising their commitments to the lobby register.

PRCA director general Francis Ingham says, “The industry desires – not fears – transparency, which makes the Government’s inaction all the more frustrating. It is disappointing that the Government is wasting time and resources, but also missing an opportunity to increase trust in the institutions that we lobby.”

To read more about cigarette branding, click here.

Mark Lloyd, creative director, The Brand Union says:

The absence of any measures aimed at curbing smoking from the Queen's speech will not have gone unnoticed by both the tobacco industry and anti-smoking campaigners and, in fact, both parties have a right to feel aggrieved.  

There have been a number of studies proving the removal of ‘branded’ packaging can be highly effective in this context; significantly reducing the likelihood of people taking up smoking. Yet it’s also undeniable that introducing this plain packaging proposal will have an impact on the UK economy; many tobacco companies citing they would merely source packaging from the Far East instead, resulting in significant job losses in the UK. Moreover, the new proposal would undoubtedly boost the illicit trade in cigarettes, which already costs the Treasury £3bn in unpaid duty and VAT a year.

However, with Scotland forging ahead with the plain packaging proposal, it seems inevitable the rest of the UK will most certainly follow suit. From a branding perspective, this seems like a daunting task, but the art of branding has evolved significantly from the days of good packaging and logo designs alone; static identities and one directional messaging are increasingly ineffective.  People and organisations now interact with each other in constantly evolving ways across multiple channels. If/when this proposal come into force, UK marketers will need to become more innovative within those fleeting moments of interaction.

Take the Australian alcoholic brand Tooheys Extra Dry that now has to be sold in plain brown paper bags. Tooheys wanted to increase their market share in the overcrowded market. Working with the insight that 18 – 24 year old drinkers wanted to express themselves, local 'designers' were invited to submit designs in a competition. Members of the public judged the competition online.  In the first eight weeks over 500,000 long neck bottles of Tooheys Extra Dry were sold, representing $9 in sales for every $1 invested. There was no visible evidence of the Tooheys brand on these bags yet the illustrations created an experience of the brand that resonated with the consumer and generated millions in free PR.  

Regardless of which legislations come in to force and when, brands need to adapt, and adapt quickly. And as marketers we must pave the way to create new connections and engage in new dialogues. Brands are no longer defined visually and verbally, but by the experiences they create and provide. Moving forwards, this is how brands will succeed and thrive.