Misunderstanding cigarette branding…

The UK Health Secretary, Andrew Lansley has suggested cigarettes should be sold in plain packaging, as ‘the evidence is clear that packaging helps to recruit smokers’.

Sadly for those who want to prevent smoking, he appears to be talking cobblers – as suggested by the fact the previous Government ditched the same plan two years ago due to a lack of evidence to that effect.

What’s happened is that there’s a misunderstanding of the role of branding in cigarette smokers.

  • People encourage other people to start smoking.
  • Branding and People influence which particular product someone smokes.

Removing branding won’t make any difference to the amount of people trying smoking. It might make a difference in the number of cigarette companies, but the spread of cigarette smoking is largely spread by encountering other people that smoke and being influenced by them in some way. There’s a handy chapter in The Tipping Point on the triggers for smoking, quoting examples of being influenced by people who were seen as cool, and also smoked. The basic hypothesis is that some people who smoke happen to be cool, and therefore smoking is perceived as cool (Rather than smoking making someone cool – the reality is that it makes people smell of tobacco, wheeze when they’re running, and end up dying earlier more often than if they hadn’t smoked – but as a smoker for over 10 years, I already know this).

Cigarette by SuperFantastic on Flickr (CC Licence)

So why do tobacco companies spend so much on marketing, and finding ways to place their brands in your eye, despite cigarette advertising bans?

The first cigarette I ever tried was a Silk Cut Ultra Light – and yet for 10 years I’ve smoked Marlboro. I’m not sure it’s a coincidence that Ayrton Senna drove a Marlboro McLaren, Wayne Rainey rode a Marlboro Yamaha, and I actually suffered through the feature film ‘Harley-Davidson and the Marlboro Man‘. Given the choice, I’ll pay a slight premium for the familiar taste and amount of nicotine, plus the branding and image etc. But if that brand vanished tomorrow, I’d find another one in the time it took to run out of cigarettes. The fact is that in the past I’ve bought John Player Specials (JPS Lotus, JPS Norton), and Rothmans (Rothman Honda in the Wayne Gardner era) as fall-backs which have no relation in taste or nicotine levels.

Wayne Rainey driving out of turn 3 at the 1990...

Image via Wikipedia

I’d reveal a more effective way to tackle smoking, but unfortunately there’s a limit to how long I can write about the topic without nipping outside for a cigarette…

Forget the economy – life is great!

Easier said than done, but in the unavoidable discussion of the current state of the economy, I’ve noticed a few people discussing whether things are as bad as people perceive, and which industry will be best placed to surive etc. And in the grand scheme of things, I’ve decided I’m not an international finance expert or politician – so the best thing I can do is to focus on the things I can to do to improve my position as an individual and just get on with life.

For starters, I’m currently cutting down and quitting cigarettes, with the aid of nicotine lozenges, and some positive thinking inspired by the 7 Habits of Effective People. I haven’t gone cold turkey, but after 13 years of smoking, I’m happy that over the last four days I’ve gone from 20 cigarettes a day to four, and then to two for the last two days. I’m aiming for one or less over the next couple of nights and to be smoke free by the end of the week.(I’ve also had plenty of support on Twitter, which is helping!)

I’ve also seen a reward for some effort in keeping up the content on this blog, and on my microblogging site, www.140char.com. I’ve recently published an interview with the creator of Twitter advertising tool Twittertise, and by the time this is published, there should be a feature on Mobatalk on 140char. Not only is this leading to more traffic to the site, but I’m also getting to chat with some really cool people who are innovating around microblogging. It means I have more useful tools and networks at my disposal – and it’s inspirational.

Plus I appear to have more RSS subscribers here and on 140char.com than ever….thanks everyone – it’s great encouragement to try to constantly improve the content and frequency of both blogs.

I’ve also had a fun conversation with someone today, who explained they got a new job recently due to the fact ‘someone’ persuaded them to join LinkedIn. After a bit of prompting, they remembered the invite came from me! And I’ve gained another practical example of how social networking works. (Funnily enough, Venturebeat has reported the shakey economy has boosted traffic to LinkedIn!)

I’ve also finally taken some steps to make my working life a bit easier, and streamlined some reporting which I’d meant to improve for ages, but hadn’t prioritised – it was in the Important not Urgent section of life which the 7 Habits teaches you to work in. And it’s starting to make a difference and allow me to work on some interesting projects and plans without getting as distracted.

And I’ve even got back into Facebook, after a group was formed for some people I haven’t seen in about 15 years – it’s quite funny to see responsible 30-something adults with similar features and the same names as the nihilistic hooligans with whom I spent much of my formative years.

And putting social media in with a shoehorn, there really are two ways to go at the moment:

  • Give people more tools for getting through the current hardship
  • Give people more tools for having fun, doing positive things and escaping the current hardship.

If you’re doing one, or both of those things, you should be on the right lines. The flip side is to stay calm and ensure that you’re measuring the effect and highlighting what this does for the bottom line correctly – the more you can show social media is a cost effective way to help your company/brand survive through any hardships, the better off you are.

One of the things I’ve been meaning to do is to compile the tools available for measurement and reporting, so if you want to recommend any for inclusion, drop me a comment.

Sometimes you see marketing everywhere…

Sometimes it seems I do little other than see, hear, plan or produce marketing. Whether it’s a flyer through my door, an email in my inbox, or a message via a social network, I’m receiving a huge amount – and there’s even more via snail mail, TV, radio etc.

But sometimes something simple stands out, and this one made me chuckle. Today at work, I decided to go out to the smoking area at the back of the building, and on a low wall outside was a pile of 20 or so lighters, all branded with the name of a local pub. Underneath was a sign saying ‘Please take one’.

Either someone just wanted rid of a pile of lighters, or it was a reasonably simple targeting of the people most likely to actually need a lighter – especially now that smoking is banned in pubs in the UK!

In the midst of sophisticated marketing and targeting techniques utilising databases, touch points and insight, sometimes doing some simple and old-fashioned actually stands out.