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Why our kids are sending the future of tobacco brands up in smoke

Children are highly impressionable to marketing. Flickr/Finn Mac Ginty, CC BY

Smoking rates among 12- to 24-year old Australians fell from 15% to 11% in the two years following bans on displaying cigarettes at the point of sale.

So does this mean that placing cigarettes out of sight and in plain packs seems to be having exactly the effect on young people that tobacco companies dread?

The power of a brand logo is incredible; one image can make us recall a whole range of information and experiences about the brand itself.

But with brands out of sight, they are also slipping out of minds, especially young minds. Tobacco companies losing their weapon of mass consumption

Seen enough yet?

Brand logos are designed to capture as much attention as possible, not only to raise our awareness of them but to ensure we can also recall information. No brand, no attention, and no desire to have that brand or product.

This is why plain packaging works so well at reducing the smoking rates among children: there simply is no awareness and no desire for the product. Existing smokers, of course, are hooked on the product so for them plain packaging is less of an issue as they are already usually familiar with brands from prior experiences.

This Youtube video is part of a campaign by health advocacy group Cancer Research UK to pressure the UK into following Australia in adopting plain packaging of cigarettes. Inspecting the designs of cigarette packets, one child says, “The pictures look quite nice – ice cubes and mint!”

Another likes the bright colours: “I think it would be quite fun to play with. It just makes you happy just by looking at it.” While the girls are impressed with the pink packets: “I think this one looks quite pretty.”

Cancer Research UK campaign, The answer is plain - Campaign for plain cigarette packaging.

The video perfectly illustrate the power of marketing on impressionable young minds.

It also shows just how easy it is to develop a positive brand experience with the use of some fairly simple but subtle marketing techniques such as branding, packaging and colours. Just ask the creators of the Simpsons, who parody the marketing of cigarettes to children with fictional brand Laramie Cigarettes.

Finally, the video reveals how implementing plain packaging has damaged the ability of major tobacco brands to establish a foothold in children’s minds.

Despite their protests that they do not actively market to children, this seems to be one of the key reasons tobacco brands have fought so hard to stop plain packaging – it severely limits their ability to establish a presence as a product of choice for the future generations.

Getting into your mind and wallet

But make no mistake either. Tobacco brands are not the only ones to use colour, packaging and branding to target children successfully. Fast food brands have for decades, especially through bundling of toys or novelty items that come in a nice package intended to add excitement to what otherwise might be a very average meal.

And of course go to any “show” and see how showbags can grab the attention of children.

This effect lasts long past when we are children. Attention capture in advertising is of particular interest to researchers and practitioners alike as they seek more subtle but effective ways to target consumers increasingly more alert to overt marketing tactics aimed at influencing their behaviour.


The empire is striking back. Electronic cigarettes are allowing smoking to be seen as cool again.

Electronic cigarettes containing tobacco cannot legally be sold in Australia, but you can purchase tobacco-free vapourisers and flavoured “juice”. While sales of these products might be only small, and while they might have few of the side effects of normal cigarettes, this is not their only use as a product in the eyes of the tobacco industry.

Smoking advertisements on US television.

They can be marketed far differently to normal nicotine-based cigarettes. Brands can display themselves in all their glory, unabashed bright colours are on display to capture the attention of the old and the young alike at point of sale counters around the nation.

Importantly, they can trigger recall of brand images in existing consumers minds, and capture attention of young minds. They can establish that all important connection, or relationship, between young consumer and brand.

This connection can be beneficial for existing tobacco brands seeking to maintain market share. Essentially e-cigarettes are the new weapon of mass consumption for the tobacco industry.

James Dean’s iconic images inadvertently did much for the tobacco industry. Wikimedia commons, CC BY

Although ads like these haven’t made their way onto our screens here, to the eyes of a child, they would offer excitement and the allure of being seen as an adult. A cool adult. A rebel adult. A very 2014 version of James Dean.

In Australia, though, there is little doubt that plain packaging has burnt the hopes of the tobacco industry in trying to get the attention, and engagement, of the next generation of consumers.

Perhaps it will be that innocence and naivety of tobacco brands and packets that will start the beginning of the end of the final chapter of the tobacco industry in Australia.

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