Smoke screen

Designers have to be at their most inventive when working on cigarette packaging

Increasing restrictions on cigarette smoking, be it advertising bans, the broadening scope of on-pack health warnings, or even the outright ban of smoking in public places, are forcing tobacco companies to come up with evermore exotic designs to help differentiate their brands.

Imperial Tobacco’s Davidoff cigarette packs have curved corners, while Dunhill has introduced a button design exclusively for packs sold in bars. Reemtsma’s Boss cigarettes use high quality printing on the cellophane wrapper to make them stand out from the crowd. British American Tobacco’s Lucky Strike has gone even further and is using a series of imaginative limited edition packs to appeal to the brand’s young consumers. The same demographic is being courted in Japan with Hope Super Light packs, which look like they’ve been scribbled on, in a design by Dentsu for Japan Tobacco International that won a D&AD Silver award this year.

Even the iconic Camel brand, which bears one of tobacco’s most enduring images, is being revamped in recognition of design’s increasing importance for the marketing of cigarettes. Brand owner JTI has picked a team of nine designers and artists from around the world to revamp designs for Camel and the refreshed brand guidelines for promotional materials are expected to be launched next month (DW 31 May).

Tobacco companies are experimenting with subtle ways of engendering loyalty and encouraging brand switching in a global market where five trillion cigarettes are sold per year. They are trying out innovations in the structure, shape and functions of packs.

BAT, which markets brands including Lucky Strike, Rothmans Royals, Dunhill Lights and Dunhill International, introduced a limited edition Lucky Strike pack in the UK and France this spring which folds open like a wallet. The inside flaps feature a series of mental puzzles under the theme ‘what’s on your mind’, giving it the feel of a collector’s item. But a BAT spokeswoman says using innovation in design is dependent on each brand’s relationship with its customers. ‘We have to tailor it according to the brand. Rothmans Royals have a very traditional following. They are not the kind of people who would appreciate funky packaging. But the young people who smoke Lucky Strike appreciate it more,’ she says.

Cigarettes lend themselves to design innovation since they are very much lifestyle items, says Nick Verebelyi, head of 3D branding and packaging at Design Bridge. ‘Smoking is very image-based, people do it because of chemical addiction and because of what it says about them. The pack has a strong display function. It is almost like a piece of jewellery and is an accessory that says who and what you are,’ he says. He believes there are huge opportunities to explore different kinds of packs since smoking is heavily ritualised, citing, for instance, Marlboro’s trial of a pack that flips open laterally like a lighter, playing on its masculine roots.

The restrictions on marketing cigarettes are so fierce that they prohibit manufacturers from supplying pictures of packaging. But it makes the designer’s job fascinating, according to Olivier Grenier, marketing and sales director of design consultancy Dragon Rouge in Paris, which carries out international design work for JTI brands Winston, Salem and Mild Seven. However, the different pace of legislation in various markets makes it hard to come up with consistent global branding. He says it requires a ‘tool box’ of branding colours, ideas and implementation guidelines that can be used when necessary. Some countries can change their rules overnight and the brands have to be ready to implement them. European Union accession states, for example, are putting in place restrictive legislation and Turkey has toughened up on tobacco rules to help its EU entry application.

One project Dragon Rouge has undertaken for Winston is designing a bar called the Blue Box Café in Geneva, though this does not carry explicit Winston branding. ‘You have to be very smart in terms of style. Even if the brand is not there, you have to make people understand you are within the Winston world through colour-coding, materials and photographic styles,’ he says.

Last year Winston marked its 50th anniversary in some markets with different pack designs. ‘The concept of the brand is true quality,’ says Grenier, ‘so we developed a series of five different designs, each portraying an approach to quality for each decade.’

But he thinks it will be difficult to assess how much innovative designs are responsible for lifting sales, as price has now become a major tool of promotion and it is hard to strip out the effects of design. But according to Design Bridge’s Verebelyi, ‘I believe they will be successful only around the margins, but when talking about billions of smokers, even a marginal switch is significant.’

With conventional design tools legally restricted, the search is on to find new ways of branding that are beyond the reach of legislators. Fitch has developed ‘sensory’ branding for BAT cigarette brands such as Lucky Strike and Pall Mall. Fitch design director Stuart Wood says that in ‘dark’ markets where advertising is heavily restricted – whether tobacco or alcohol – brand owners can communicate using smell, sound and touch. He gives one example of work Fitch has done for the British American Racing’s Formula One motor team, which is sponsored by Lucky Strike. One initiative is to use BAR events such as the team party as a way of introducing people to signature smells, styles of music and colours associated with the brand. The odours can then be introduced to cigarette packs and emitted when the cellophane wrapper is taken off, or impregnated on pack inserts so people who have attended events recognise them when they use the brand.

‘We’ve also created a set of guidelines for the music, so we know what kind of music is suitable for the Lucky Strike brand. We have defined the look of the place, how things appear, how it feels as you are working through, do you speed up or slow down – how do you bring alive the urban environment at a hanger in Silverstone?’ says Wood. He believes sensory branding will become a powerful tool for cigarette manufacturers, and could be taken up by alcohol and fast food brands as well. A different kind of branded ‘environment’ approach is taken by JTI, which has been opening Camel- and Winston-branded ‘smoking lounges’ in airports across Europe.

Under the EU’s tobacco product directive, each EU country will choose from a library of graphic pictorial images showing diseased organs to use as on-pack warnings. The EU is preparing its library of shots, though this has been delayed and is expected to launch in the next few months. With such powerful images on packs, manufacturers will try to ensure brands are differentiated from rivals, but also that they rise above the graphic images on the packs. Even greater challenges lie ahead for designers in this market.

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