The announcement on 6 March that the UK Government plans to press on with tobacco plain packaging legislation is the non-news story of the week.
The UK authorities are ‘still considering proposals to make plain packaging compulsory for tobacco products’ is a confirmation of an already established statement of intent.
Regardless, the UK media have run with the story, tobacco share prices have fallen and we’re left wondering what this means for brand owners’ rights to communicate their values, to reinforce differentiation and help consumers make informed decisions about competing products.
The draconian nature of these proposed changes no longer shocks. What does though, is the relative silence of the marketing and branding community to these drastic packaging measures. This isn’t about whether you are anti-tobacco or not but about the freedom to be able to communicate branding and intellectual property on a legal product.
These measures could feasibly set a precedent for change in other challenged categories. Tobacco might be on the horizon now but soft drinks, fast food, confectionery and alcohol are just some of the categories on the long term radar.
Worryingly, authorities don’t even need much evidence of potential changes to consumer behaviour to make the move. Australian tobacco packaging legislation was implemented with little compelling evidence that it would effect smoking rates but they did it anyway.
Is it far fetched to imagine punitive marketing restrictions for other categories? 15 years ago, few tobacco marketers would have ever envisaged a situation where they had no branding, huge picture health warnings, display bans and just about every other promotional activity on their 1998 marketing plan taken away.
If the marketing industry does not fight for their marketing freedoms, then we are a generation away from significant marketing restrictions in a whole host of other categories. The tobacco industry, as expected, continues to lobby against these proposed changes. It is about time their marketing colleagues stood up for tobacco and defended the basic right to communicate their brand integrity for the much longer term.