The recent news that Australia has passed a law to strip all cigarette packages of branding has got us asking a lot of questions in the Fiasco studio. The law, which requires all tobacco to be sold in generic green packets like the one above, was passed after legal battles with major tobacco companies. It is currently under consultation to be introduced in the UK.
Being fair and honest with our influence as designers is by no means a clear path. These are muddy waters. But what is clear about the green unbranded “plain packaging” is that it’s not very plain at all. It’s horrific. It’s scary. On this article for the Guardian user Robstacle hilariously comments “Holy crap! That pack on the right looks disgusting. I don’t smoke, but that picture makes me want to give up EYES.” He’s not wrong. They are repulsive. From a design point of view, I would feel somewhat conflicted about the approach to this packaging. I am all for plain packaging. But I feel that “standardised packaging” is a more accurate term for this design.
According to Smoke Free Action for every five smokers who oppose plain packaging there are six who are in favour. What I can’t imagine is that they had this in mind when they heard “plain packaging”. To me a “plain packaging” approach would favour neutrality, rather than repulsion. I imagine this to be a more successful strategy if the aim is to empower informed choice. Bringing to mind the Minimalism in a Maximalist market project by Antrepo, there is an undeniable allure to minimalist design which certainly confuses the issue of neutrality.
Noticeable too are the kinds of conversations that go on about the design of products. This somewhat shaky research by Cancer Research UK does little more than remind us that kids love colour. It certainly doesn’t shorten the leap between choosing colours in cigarette packet design and appealing to children as a target market (as some would have us believe). After all, we don’t look at Surf washing powder with it’s bright pink and say, “they must really want kids to use this”.
We have smokers and non-smokers in the Fiasco studio, but feel quite agreed that this is not “plain packaging”. How do you feel about the best approach for the UK to take? And the Australian standardized packaging? As always, get in touch with your thoughts.