Thursday, 12 May 2016

Ringing of the bell on Tobacco with plain packs

The EU approval of plain packaging for tobacco, and tighter regulation of ecigarettes, this week is a landmark in advertising and marketing. Legislating a product or business out of existence is not new, whether asbestos or child chimney sweeps. But the removal of branding is something new – off the top of my head I can only think of legislation restricting the use of the swastika imagery in post-war Germany.

Cigarette brands now must specify not just the health warnings that already exist (although some countries go further than UK with horror imagery of rotten lungs and teeth etc). But also now specifying the pack colour – a plain olive drab chosen to be as unappealing as possible – and the font size and prominence. And most radical of all, restricting the brand name to a standard typeface. Out go the billions invested in imagery and design for Marlboro, Lucky Strikes, Gitanes, Camel and Silk Cut.

And if cigarettes are now effectively a commodity brand, it’s but a short step to further restrictions of sale with store and brand permits. This month already sees the end of menthol cigarettes, the supposedly safer smoke, and packs of 10 following vending machine sales, and store displays into the dustbin. Tobacco manufacturers are even banned from using existing brand names on ecigarettes.

Certainly the larger supermarkets must be reviewing their CSR strategies and considering how long they can get away with stocking cigarettes at all - and how they use those profits, rather than knowingly profiting from their customers’ likely ill-health. While the first health evidence suggests ecigarettes are 90% safer than existing cigarettes, and a step towards giving up smoking, but are also likely to be regulated out of existence. Imperial Tobacco may now be the 2nd largest company in the FTSE100 but what price its shares in the near future unless it follows a similar BP corporate strategy of beyond oil? And where tobacco leads, regulation must follow for other products.

Arms exports are now restricted as of this year for out of the EU, and the Arms Trade Treaty restricts small arms and ammunition. The writing is on the wall for the large arms manufacturers not just in sales restrictions but a tightening of corporate welfare for the likes of BAE, Thales, Lockheed, Rolls Royce etc, and their subsidiaries. While booze brands such as Diageo’s portfolio or pub chains will need to move faster on safer drinking levels – safe drinking levels also reduced this year by Public Health England.

And even those advertising staples, the fast food giants, such as Kentucky Fried Chicken (rebranding to KFC away for fried meat – and appalling square meals advertising), McDonalds, Burger King and even Haagen Daaz or Fray Bentos etc must be moving faster to healthier eating given the triple whammy of the tobacco precedent, and UN warning on red meat and cancer, and UK sugar/soda tax this year.

And already as of last year, New York City has moved towards restrictions on transfats and supersize portions that have so far been a key part of the fast food giants and obesity and diabetes epidemics.. While, under the umbrella of SDG2030 and especially Goal 12 of Sustainable Consumption a new era in branding is developing where brands such as Unilever and Nestle are stepping forward to fast-forward not just healthier products or food provenance, but Climate Change policies through the whole supply chain.

Changing product formulations to low fat or switching sugars to sweeteners may ripple across taste buds initially but consumer scrutiny over Climate Change, Conflict Minerals or Fairtrade are deeper and detailed than most brands are used to.

If Sweden is already as a nation achieving 52% of its energy from renewables then surely larger brands would be achieving that figure rather than the 20% forecast over the next decade? And certainly Swedish brands such as Ikea or Volvo? And the global scrutiny facilitated by social media, will switch to the amelioration of the plight of countries such as Malawi reliant on tobacco crops until now, or the sugar plantations of Cuba or Philippines or pampas of Argentina, proving a challenge for the governments of and corporations in those countries.

Just as brands such as Adidas or Marks and Spencer or Nike or Apple face scrutiny over their supply chain processes given the 2013 Savar garment factory collapse and Foxconn suicides and early deaths, salaries and gender equality, in and beyond the Boardroom, in Bangladesh or Cambodia. The end of Marlboro packs is the ringing of the bell on the old way of brands and advertising and the first round of SDG2030 goals.

Tim Garbutt, Sincerity Agency @timg33

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