Smoking is bad. Even most smokers will agree that it’s expensive and has a range of negatives even aside from the massive increases in health risks. That includes everything from nicotine stained skin to the potentially risk of setting your own hair alight during a student event at a nightclub in Hull. While the last example may have just applied to me in the 1990s, generally most people have been in favour of increased restrictions on cigarette sales, advertising and marketing.
But the flip side is that it has forced cigarette promotions to become more interesting and innovative. The strong, iconic branding allowed variations on brand names to get around new rules on sports sponsorship. For instance, the Jordan F1 team was sponsored by Benson & Hedges for around 10 years, but switched to variations including Bitten & Hisses, Buzzin Hornets and Be On Edge where cigarette sponsorship was banned.
There are also plenty of examples of product placement, including paying stars like Silvester Stallone directly to use particular products in films. And books like Buyology by Martin Lindstrom suggested how brand associations like cowboys, camels and less obvious examples including colours etc can trigger us into craving a cigarette as much, if not more, than a direct advert would have done.
Which is why I admire the skill of those promoting smoking, and look to learn from them to better promote less harmful products (We work with a wide range of brands, but have turned down offers from companies we believe offer products or services which aren’t beneficial to customers).
Clever Marketing From Marlboro
A new law was passed in the UK in 2016. From May 2016, all cigarette packets will be a standard green colour, logos will be prohibited, menthols are being banned, and 10-packs of cigarettes have also been withdrawn. But there has been a year’s grace period for companies to adjust and sell old stock.
So in reality it means we’re going to see branding and packets of 10 cigarettes disappear from shelves by May 2017. And that’s why I have to admit some admiration for what Marlboro has done when I visited the shops…
It looks like a normal packet of 10 Marlboro Lights and costs the same as it did last week. But rather than being the standard cardboard packaging, it’s a durable tin packet.
And I suspect many of the marketers reading this will have already guessed why.
From May, the company will lose all their iconic branding. And anyone who previously bought a pack of 10 might well give up, rather than double their daily expenditure on a packet of 20. For instance, when I’ve cut down by smoking before eventually quitting, I found buying a pack of 10 meant I definitely tried to make them last longer.
Without that option though, I might have just gone cold turkey.
So now they’ve taken a probably marginal hit in their profits in the short-term to provide smokers with a way to continue to share their branding, and to potentially still provide that 10-pack limit.
And while for many it’s an addiction with well-known health risks, most smokers will still feel slightly cooler taking out a branded Marlboro tin and refilling it from the non-branded packs than having to take out a dull green pack with a large diseased lung on it.
Marketing Under Restrictions Promotes Creativity:
Would Marlboro have done something like this to promote their brand without the upcoming regulations and bans? I highly doubt it.
I’d imagine most people reading this don’t have an unlimited budget or freedom. But if you did, the danger is that you’d simply pile much more money into doing the same things. And you’d have no incentive to optimise your Adwords spend or paid Facebook content if you could just double the budget instead.
Whereas the most creative marketing often comes from constraints. Whether that’s from laws, budgets or other restrictions, it’s something that can result in far more interest and impact. I’ve just been reading ‘Things A Little Bird Told Me‘ by Biz Stone, and in it, he talks about his time designing book covers. When a brief insisted a particular photo had to be used, other designers would avoid taking that work. Instead, Biz Stone would rush to grab that job, take the photo, and then do something like blow it up 2000 times to use the massively pixellated version.
Employees are often advised ‘Don’t bring me problems, bring me solutions’.
Perhaps our marketing motto should be ‘Don’t complain about constraints, bring me creative innovations’?