It’s poo brown and olive green as cigarette packs lose their magic colours

The designs have been chosen to turn teens off smoking. AAP

Cigarette packages have become the last bastion of advertising for tobacco manufacturers. If the Federal Government wins its war against big tobacco, all cigarette packages will be subject to designs chosen for their lack of appeal.

The new plain package cigarettes will be presented in olive green packaging, with the only visible logo a graphic health warning. The brand of the cigarette will appear in plain type and small font.

Research shows changing the size of the graphic warning picture, the size and number of brand elements, and the colour of the packaging is likely to encourage young people to quit, or to not take up smoking in the first place.

Far from being cool, the olive green packet colour is perceived as revolting. With larger graphic health warning consumers will feel less inclined to leave the packet on show - throwing out any opportunities for brand promotion.

Before deciding on olive green, the Federal Government tested a range of colours, including a “poo” brown colour. This was identified as the least appealing colour and for this reason is likely to become the new colour of cigarettes.

Cigarette companies are worried because they have traditionally promoted and sold through colours, logos and images. Cigarette packets were designed to reassure smokers about risk and to reinforce smokers’ self-image.

Manufacturers know that consumers will keep the packaging until the last cigarette has been consumed, and so the packaging acts as a constant reminder and awareness builder for the brand.

The psychology of colour is a key element in marketing strategy. Tens of millions of dollars are spent to get the colour schemes right for a brand name, and then protecting the colour scheme.

Think about the efforts Cadbury goes to in order to protect the colour purple.

Research has shown that lighter colours (particularly white and light blue) are perceived as containing milder, smoother, less harmful products. A recent study has found that gold or silver packets or slim cigarettes were perceived by smokers to be less harmful.

Bold, glossy colours, and embossed logos have traditionally denoted royalty or high quality. Gold and black have also been used to signal high quality, classy products, while pale green, ironically, promotes freshness.

A hard packet is likely to be associated with quality, whereas the soft packets signals a more feminine product.

Tobacco companies have traditionally marketed to younger consumers, with the view that once you are past 40, your behaviour is so ingrained it is difficult to change.

A cigarette package conveys information about the product, and the user. For example, along with the associated imagery, John Player Special built an image of the cigarette for international playboys.

Benson and Hedges promoted a classier product, as did Dunhill, with a royal seal. Winfield Blue, however, marketed to blue collar workers in Australia, choosing a very apt spokesperson, a younger Paul Hogan.

Camel cigarettes are attempting to protect their brand (which is a strange association for a manufacturer of cigarettes) from the anti-smoking lobby in America, who turned Joe Camel into Joe Chemo, with the Camel brand icon hooked up to chemotherapy drugs via intravenous drip.

In order to overcome these poor perceptions, cigarette manufacturers have resorted to less traditional buzz, viral and guerrilla marketing avenues.

For example, models handed out cigarettes recently at a fashion designer’s after party to give potential customers a taste of the product and demonstrate the brand’s links to to style and luxury.

Most recently in Australia, smaller retailers have banded together to question the effectiveness of plain packaging on cigarettes. This is an attempt by big tobacco to control and sabotage the plain packaging debate.

Plain packaging, along with astronomical price increases for packets of cigarettes, is likely to have a strong deterring influence for those who are new to smoking or considering taking up the habit.

With the Federal Government’s legislation aiming to knock out big tobacco’s most important market, I can see why they’re putting up such a fight.