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What will the cigarette branding ban mean for design? Taxi Studio, Studio Minerva and Fabrik share reaction

This morning news broke that a law banning the use of branded cigarette packaging looks likely to come into effect from May 2016. This would see packs limited to a dull brown with the brand name the only text allowed aside from public health warnings.

So what will the plain packaging mean for the design and branding industry? The Drum spoke with execs at Taxi Studio, Studio Minerva and Fabrik to gauge reaction.

Spencer Buck, founder and creative director of Taxi Studio, said the ban will in fact drive cigarette companies to create new packaging innovations to engage consumers. “The plain packs in my view will simply force an evolution of an industry into new innovations,” he argued. “My first reaction to the news last night was ‘Marlboro will just start creating really desirable cigarette holding packs and give them away, or even better, sell them’.

“Smokers will carry around sexy new tactile packs made of metal and felt and leathers; they'll personalise them (because that’s what we do) and they'll fill them with the brand of their choice… essentially converting 'plain packs' to 'refill packs’, making a delightful mockery of the whole policy in the process.”

Buck doesn't believe the introduction of plain packs will solve the problem of smoking; instead it will “just present the industry with new creative challenges,” he said.

“The government is paying lip service to public health issues,” Buck added. “If they really meant it, they’d ban the sale of cigarettes altogether. Which they won’t because the industry makes the government a lot of money.”

By contrast, Silas Amos, strategy director at the newly formed Studio Minerva, applauded the introduction of plain packaging and batted away the notion that it will lead to an uptake in counterfeit goods.

“[On the] criticism that easy to copy plain packs will lead to more counterfitting – phooey,” he remarked. “Replicating branded cig packaging is little challenge already in a world that can equally knock out copies of luxury handbags with no sweat.

“I’ve bought plenty of counterfeit cigs in my time, and you only tell the difference once you light up. And as someone who has smoked, (and worked on cigarette packaging) yesterday’s news felt like a very good thing. And good to be living in only the second industrialised nation to embrace it after Australia.”

Amos also touched on the rise in popularity of e-cigarettes and the surge of advertising surrounding them, which he likened to the old fashioned cigarette advertising in years past.

“It seems ironic that some of the marketing around the futuristically styled e-cig category features such old fashioned ‘look at these cool beautiful people puffing on a stick’ imagery. It’s like going back to the seventies. I guess legislation will catch up with this in time also, say in around another forty years.”

Meanwhile Sofi Andersson, project manager at Fabrik Brands, said the ban will force the creative industry to come up with better ways to promote cigarettes, but cast doubt on the effects that the legislation will have on consumer choice.

"People are relying on branding to guide them in everyday decisions,” she said. “By removing the cigarette packaging’s identity this new law is technically denying people the right to the element of choice.

“The creative industry stand to lose the safety net of packaging and will be forced to find ways to creatively redefine the way tobacco is promoted – most likely for the better. Besides, when have we ever turned down a challenge before?"

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