Logos, Colours, and Brand Imagery: Plain Packaging

Indeed, as one moves down the delivery sector, then the closer to white a pack tends to become. This is because white is generally held to convey a clean healthy association.” 

Screen Shot 2556-02-13 at 2.29.33 PMDifferent shades of the same colour and the proportion of white space on the package are commonly used to manipulate perceptions of a product’s strength and potential risk. Indeed, a number of industry studies have shown that the colour and design of the package 

are effective to the point where they influence sensory perceptions from smoking a cigarette, a process known as “sensory transfer.” Research from other health domains underscores the effect of colour on consumer perceptions: the colour of pharmaceutical pills , for example, has been shown to influence their effectiveness, presumably through a potent placebo effect.

References to Product Design

Products that are positioned as “low tar” brands targeted at health conscious smokers often carry images or references to product design on the package. References to filtration are among the oldest and most common examples of this strategy. For more than 50 years, tobacco companies have communicated filter properties to consumers as tangible evidence of emissions reduction and lower risks. Indeed, the rise of filtered cigarettes in the U.S. paralleled the rise in health concerns among consumers . From Kent’s Micronite filter, to Barclay’s ACTRON filter, to the charcoal filters currently being test marketed in Marlboro Ultra Smooth – whatever the filtration properties of these designs may be, they reassure smokers when displayed on the package.


The persistence of false beliefs may also be due to other promotional aspects of the pack, including brand imagery and colour.  Tobacco industry documents describe this phenomenon: “Lower delivery products tend to be featured in blue packs.” As Myron Johnston and W.L. Dunn of Philip Morris stated in 1966, “the illusion of filtration is as important as the fact of filtration.”  image at left provides a contemporary example of this packaging strategy from China, where a leading brands feature images of high-tech filters and references to “colour cellulose particles.” Packages with pictures and references to special cigarette filters such as this are rated by a majority of smokers as having less tar and lower health risk. These references to product design and emissions on the package may be meaningless in terms of actual risk; however, the perception of improved filtration and technology has the potential to falsely reassure consumers.

Plain Packaging 

The removal of colour and other elements of package design-so-called “plain packaging”-has emerged as one regulatory option for reducing potentially misleading package designs. Plain packaging would standardize the appearance of cigarette packages by requiring the removal of all brand imagery, including corporate logos and trademarks. Packages would display a standard background colour and manufacturers would be permitted to print only the brand name in a mandated size, font and position. Other government-mandated information, such as health warnings, would remain.

Plain Packaging Reduces False Beliefs About the Harmfulness of Difference Cigarette Brands

Adults and youth are significantly less likely to report false beliefs about the relative risk of cigarette brands when viewing packs with the colour and brand imagery removed. Plain packaging has also been shown to reduce beliefs about the link between smoking and weight control. In a recent study conducted among young women in Canada, women who viewed eight female-oriented packs with colours such as pink, were significantly more likely to report that smoking “helps people stay slim” than women who viewed “plain” versions of the same packs.

Plain Packaging Increases the Effectiveness of Health Warnings

Plain packaging may also enhance the effectiveness of health warnings by increasing their noticeability, recall, and believability. For example, in one study, New Zealand youth were significantly more likely to recall health warnings when they were presented on plain packs compared to health warnings presented on “normal” branded packages.

Plain Packaging Reduces Brand Appeal Among Children and Youth

Plain packaging regulations also have the potential to satisfy more general marketing restrictions and reduce tobacco marketing to children and youth. Brand descriptors and imagery are particularly important marketing strategies for targeting youth and younger adults. Packaging design is critical to establishing brand appeal and identity among youth, the period in which brand preferences are established.  Research to date suggests that plain packages are less attractive and engaging, and may reduce the appeal of smoking among youth and adults, including for brands targeted at women.

Standardizing Package Shape and Size

An additional component of “plain” packaging could include regulations on the shape and size of packages. Tobacco manufactures have released an increasing number of “special edition” packages, many of which have novel shapes and open in different ways.  Novel shapes and sizes may also increase the appeal of cigarette brands and may be particularly engaging to youth. In particular, “slim” packages used to market female brands may promote the widespread belief that smoking is an effective way to stay thin and control weight-an important predictor of tobacco use among girls.  Different shapes and sizes also have the potential to undermine health warnings on packages. In some cases, packages are so small and narrow that they either warp the health warning pictures or render the text so small as to be unreadable. Additional research on the potential impact of standardizing pack shape and size should be considered a priority.

Current International Best Practice

Australia is the first country to announce plain packaging regulations prohibiting colour, logos and brand imagery on packages.  Starting July 1, 2012 tobacco products will be sold in packs with a standardized background colour and promotional text will be restricted to brand and product names in a standar colour, position  type style and size.