Posted by: Brandon Bester | June 3, 2013

Why “De-Branding” Cigarette Packaging Won’t Work

ImageIn the news last week was the latest regarding plans to remove branding and logos from cigarette packaging in South Africa. According to an article on IOL, the Department of Health plans to remove branding and introduce gruesome images onto cigarette packages. “The images will include pictures of rotten teeth and various forms of cancer, as part of department plan to reduce smoking.”

Most of the article above tackles the subject from a legal and IP perspective. However, you may well be aware of the implications from a Neuromarketing perspective. Neuromarketing studies have shown that placing warning labels on cigarette packaging – even grotesque labels with images of cancerous lungs – do little to curb smokers’ desires to smoke. Anything that elicits the idea of smoking triggers the Nucleus Accumbens (NA). The NA is a dopamine rich area of the brain that plays an important role in addiction behaviour. Dopamine is a chemical that is in part responsible for reward learning, pleasure and motivation to act on certain stimuli. Therefore, even unbranded packages would still elicit the idea of smoking, trigger the smokers NA, and make them crave a cigarette.

In addition to this is the concept of mirror neurons. Mirror neurons are neurons that fire when we see someone else performing an action, for example when we see someone raising their hand our brain responds as if we were raising our hand. Apply this to smoking; even if all branding and packaging were removed from cigarette packaging, smokers seeing others smoking would feel the urge to smoke as well.

Finally, branding extends way beyond a simple logo and includes everything from the experience one has with the brand to the emotional associations with the brand. Studies have shown how reward parts of the brain activate when a person believes they are experiencing a certain brand of product, even though it is not that brand of product. If someone’s friends say that it is cool to smoke Brand A of cigarettes, then the person will go out to find Brand A regardless of the packaging on the box. They will still have the reward mechanisms of smoking that brand, even though the branding has been removed or reduced.

I don’t smoke myself, but these are just some facts I felt like sharing. Ideally, one should actually test the effect of de-branded cigarette packaging and/or gruesome images on cigarette packages, before any costs are spent on changing legislation.

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