The Tobacco Plain Packaging Act is forcing tobacco companies to tackle unchartered packaging and branding territory. As the cigarette manufacturers lose their real estate, Lucy Clark asks how brands grow, and exactly how important packaging is to them in the big picture
Packaging and branding go hand-in-hand, right? You package up a product in a nice, pretty box, stamp a pain-stakingly clever and eye-catching logo on the front, and you’re job’s done, yes?
Well, no. Wrong, and wrong.
For starters, a brand is far more than a logo. And packaging, while it has a big role to play in defining a brand, it has a much bigger job to do than just perform its packaging function.
What is a brand?
Defining exactly what constitutes a ‘brand’ is a little like taking a mind-bending lesson in philosophy. There is one thing that everyone is agreed on, and that’s that a brand is far more than a logo.
Words like ‘memory’, ‘promise’, ‘story’ and ‘perception’ are some of those used to define a brand by those in the industry.
Moon Communications’ brand strategy director Daye Moffitt suggests: “At the end of the day, a brand is a promise. It sets up the expectations that exist within the hearts and minds of its audiences. Great brands have great stories to tell – stories that mean something, have some sort of magnetic appeal to a certain kind of person. So yes, absolutely, it is far more than just a logo – a logo is merely part of the puzzle.”
While Dan Ratner, managing director of Sydney brand agency Uberbrand, outlines: “A brand is not what you see – it’s what lives in people’s heads. It’s a perception, made up of all the impressions people get from touch points along the way. Brands can be delivered visually, but they can also be delivered verbally and, in tangible ways, through the behaviour of the person delivering the product.”
He adds: “Good branding happens when people have the same thoughts in their heads. Great branding is when everyone thinks what you want them to think.”
Nir Wegrzyn, chief executive of BrandOpus, agrees – and takes it a step further: “A brand is a memory. It is a set of associations that are linked together and become activated at different trigger points. If you consider it like this, as leading behavioural psychologists do, almost everything is a brand, in the sense that items which are associated together can be triggered more easily than those which are isolated. Some brands are activated by a word, a thought or an idea, some by images.”
While Kath McLachlan, creative services director at Saltmine Design Group, compares brands to people. She says: “A consumer should be able to view a successful person like a brand – it has its own personality that comes to life through its packaging and communications.”
And Taby Taylor-Ziane, director of strategy at Landor, summed it up with a Walter Landor quote that is proudly on show in the company’s offices: “Products are made in the factory, but brands are created in the mind.”
But who is in control of a brand and its destiny? Moffitt explains: “The reality is that brands no longer belong to marketing managers, CEOs or even business owners. They belong to their consumers – they’ve become brand custodians in many respects. They’re now a big part of the branding process.”
Packaging up the story
The packaging of a product is, in many cases, where the branding starts. The packaging is what the consumer sees on the shelf and comes to represent the product in the consumer’s eyes.
“In a sea of ‘me too’ products on the shelf, packaging is crucial to make a brand stand out from the crowd,” explains McLachlan. “And when marketing budgets are cut, the packaging is often the only touch point that remains, making it even more important for the success of the brand.
“The FMCG on-shelf environment is very competitive and it’s a well-quoted fact that packaging only has a three-second window to grab the consumer’s attention and engage with them at shelf. In this short time, packaging must act as the silent salesperson to grab busy customers’ attention and scream ‘pick me up and take me home’, so it’s essential it does that effectively.”
But, as well as grabbing attention, packaging must stay true to the brand. Colin Jowell, managing director at FutureBrand Australia, says: “Packaging is very important to the brand, as it can carry and reinforce many parts of the brand story. At its most basic form, packaging is an aid to recognition. It starts by being functional. But emotive elements in the design are becoming more essential, as our shopping modes evolve from trolleys to clicks or screen taps.”
Moon Communications’ Moffitt agrees: “Packaging is hugely important to a brand. It’s a big part of the journey. It can be the first or the last touch point for a product or brand – both of which can often be the most defining moments.
“Packaging in many instances can even influence how you perceive or experience the product inside. It may set off different quality cues, flavours or taste expectations.”
And Kieren Thorpe, creative director for Australia at BrandOpus, which has just opened up an office in Melbourne, argues that brands can’t be separated from their packaging.
“We don’t distinguish the brand from the packaging itself,” he says. “The visual identity of a brand gives it its personality, which people can then understand and relate to. In the FMCG world, the packaging is the primary example of what the brand is. Coca-Cola for example: the bottle and the label is the brand, everyone knows instantly which brand it is, without reading the label.”
Ratner agrees: “In the FMCG category, a lot of emphasis goes on the packaging – it’s another channel to communicate the brand.”
But he adds: “It depends on the context as to how important the packaging is. Sometimes it’s really important, sometimes it’s not.”
For example – what if you’re selling a product that has no packaging, such as insurance? “The insurance category is a great example,” says Ratner. “They have no product to package up, just a promise. So, to communicate that promise, they rely on different channels, like television and traditional advertising.”
Packaging at work
On top of working hard to help define a brand, packaging plays a multi-faceted role. As well as its appearance, packaging must be functional, it must support and develop the relationship between brand and consumer, and it must evolve with the times.
Landor’s Taylor-Ziane explains: “Packaging is the visual code that people use in their consumption behaviour. When you’re in shopper mode – or ‘beta mode’ – you make decisions almost subconsciously, looking for shape and colour. So packaging, at that point, is incredibly important.”
Packaging also plays a big role in positioning brands beside one another. “Packaging is important in decoding brand hierarchy,” Taylor-Ziane outlines. “Supermarkets, for example, are growing their own brands and developing different hierarchies for them. Different packaging really helps the consumer at the point of purchase.”
Beyond appearance, packaging must fulfil its function too. “We have to really understand how people use the product to ensure we design the packaging appropriately,” adds Taylor-Ziane. “Liquid detergent bottles must be easy to hold and clean to pour, and so on.”
But it doesn’t always work and there have been plenty of packaging fails. The launch of Vegemite’s new cheesy Vegemite spread in 2009 was, she says, a packaging fail.
“Packaging builds a relationship between the brand and the consumer through trust and experience, and consumers want a kind of reassurance,” she explains. “When Vegemite called their new spread iSnack 2.0, their customers hated it and over 700,000 people complained.”
A sustainable future
When it comes to packaging, one word sums up its future: sustainability.
“The reality of the future is that there will be more of us making use of finite and declining resources,” says FutureBrand’s Jowell. “Cardboard and plastic technologies have come along leaps and bounds, which has meant that brands don’t necessarily have to sacrifice any premium to gain the sustainability credential.
“Related to this trend is the fact that brands are seeking greater perceptions of authenticity, which can manifest itself in many ways in packaging – simpler designs, clear windows on packs and bottles, and storytelling, which builds an emotional connection with the consumer and a belief in the brand’s values.
“Brands that win are the ones that have nothing to hide, inside and out, and our job is merely to show that truth in the best possible light.”
Saltmine’s McLachlan agrees: “Within FMCG, there seems to be a trend with manufacturers going back to basics and trying to appear more natural. This has been seen through the use of recycled cardboard and an increase in the use of natural icons and claims.”
Moon’s Moffitt agrees that sustainable packaging is a big focus for the future. “No-one appreciates excess in terms of packaging now,” she says. “Packaging must be respectful to the environment and not wasteful.”
She also believes that tone of voice is going to play an increasingly important role when it comes to packaging.
“Tone of voice has the potential to create enormous differentiation, particularly within categories that are saturated, or where there is little real estate to play with,” says Moffitt. “It’s funny because the old saying is ‘a picture paints a thousand words’, but I believe today, and particularly with packaging, that a few great words can paint a great picture’.”
Landor’s Taylor-Ziane adds that digital, which is beginning to be integrated into packaging overseas, will begin to play more of a role on packaging.
She singled out Cadbury’s ‘Spots versus Stripes’ game in the UK, which used Blippar image-recognition technology to enable consumers to use their smartphones to play a game on the chocolate bar wrappers.
But it’s the brands that evolve almost invisibly that succeed in the long-run. “It’s important to tweak packaging to refresh it without being revolutionary and damaging the relationship with the consumer,” adds Taylor-Ziane. “It’s vital to understand what your brand stands for. There should be one single, compelling idea that it stands for – and the brand should be single-minded about it. If you have that idea at the heart of the brand, it’s easy to innovate and refresh to fit.”
Packaging up the best
The packaging was re-designed by FutureBrand London to raise the ‘gift’ status of the brand.
Arnott’s Vita-Weat Lunch Slices
In a move away from Vita-Weat’s traditional red and yellow packaging, Landor designed the Lunch Slices packaging to have a more natural, wholesome feel.
Abbott’s Village Bakery
The retro look of the packaging, designed by Landor, is aimed at giving the product a nostalgic, village feel.
Jameson Raw Cola and Cloudy Apple
The packaging for these ready-to-drink bottles is targeted at the premium end of the market, with embossing and verbal branding to evoke quality.
Bright and fresh new packaging for Twinings’ fruit and herbal infusion teas has been designed by BrandOpus in the UK to make the category easy to navigate in the supermarket.
Going up in smoke
From December 1, tobacco companies will have their real estate on their products’ packaging taken away from them. All cigarette packets will, for the first time, look the same. And they’ll look unattractive at that.
The introduction of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Act in Australia – a world first – means that all brands of cigarettes will be packaged in generic olive-green packets, free of logos and branding, but covered in health warnings through words and images.
It is a new challenge for branding and it remains to be seen how – and if – the tobacco companies can enable their brands to live on.
The expectation is that the cigarette manufacturers will rely more on words, and on their iconic, firmly-established brand names. But will that enable them to attract new, young custom? And will the lure of the forbidden only serve to make cigarettes more appealing to young people?
Daye Moffitt, brand strategy director at Moon Communications, says: “Tone of voice is a big trend in packaging and is something that the tobacco companies can use. A few great words on packaging can paint a great picture.”
“Words like ‘Marlboro’ are entrenched in the minds of their existing customers,” says Colin Jowell, managing director of FutureBrand Australia. “They will be ok for now, but it undoubtedly makes it harder for them to attract new customers, which is naturally the point of the ban.”
Kieren Thorpe, BrandOpus’ creative director for Australia, agrees that enticing new people to smoke will be much tougher. He says: “Cigarette smokers are very loyal people – they know what they’re going to buy before they go into the shop. How the tobacco companies now establish themselves with new customers remains to be seen – but I am sure they will find ways and means.”
Uberbrand’s managing director Dan Ratner believes today’s smokers will become even more important as advocates to tomorrow’s smokers.
“The cigarette brands are already well established with people who already smoke,” he explains. “But the people who are going to take up smoking will seek out a brand – and they’ll do that through other smokers. Smokers are advocates of the tobacco brands.”
Jowell adds that the basic shape and size of the cigarette packet is enough to retain familiarity. He says: “At its most basic form, packaging is an aid to recognition. To an extent, recognisable branding is a trigger to smoke – so the legislation makes sense. But then so is the box shape itself, which is iconic to the industry and still remains.”
Today’s smokers will view the plain packaging as patronising, argues BrandOpus chief executive Nir Wegrzyn.
“Many consumers feel that a change to plain packaging will not alter either their attitude or actions towards the purchase of cigarettes or their smoking habits,” he suggests. “This is because the set of associations we have with smoking, or a particular brand, are so deeply ingrained after a lifetime of exposure to sophisticated marketing stratagem and powerful branding.”
But Wegrzyn adds that the plain packaging ruling is the final nail in the coffin of years of gradually removing the cigarette brands’ abilities to express their personalities.
He says: “This has resulted in the connection between personality and the identity itself becoming broken. Without branded packaging, the next generation will no longer have the extensive cognitive associations between cigarette brands and experiences or emotional states. They will only buy if they want to smoke – not because of the influence of the brand.”
Finally, the “endless allure of what is forbidden” could also work in favour of the tobacco companies – and should not be under-estimated, says Wegrzyn.
“Although there is no evidence that it will happen again, countless historic examples – from Prohibition to the classification of drugs – indicates that the human is always drawn to what it not allowed,” he explains. “The forbidden is a powerful brand.”