Plain Cigarette Packaging vs Branded Packaging: Can You Smell the Difference?

The South African Government is currently preparing a Draft Bill that will introduce plain packaging for all cigarette brands.  This means restricted use of brand images, promotions and logos.

Selling cigarettes is becoming increasingly difficult throughout the world as governments become convinced that smoking is associated with a variety of diseases, including heart disease, strokes and blindness.

The Neuro Against Smoking (NAS) research study, of which NMASA represented South African, aimed at investigating people’s implicit attitudes towards smoking. That is, what smokers’ subconscious attitudes were towards smoking. 


What are the consequences of plain packaging?

Apart from likely drops in profit due to less people lighting up a cigarette (which is what the government wants), for smokers it will be harder to distinguish between two or more competing brands. But surely one smoker should be able to ‘sniff out’ a Dunhill from a Gunston?

As Phil Barden mentions in Decoded, brands frame our expectations. That is, we experience what we expect to experience – because the brand provides the context that tells us as consumers what to expect. Perception is not only about neurons firing together to give us an experience, it is also our expectations that determine our experiences. If it’s expensive, it tastes better. If it’s Brand x, it will be better than Brand y.

Researchers are all too familiar with people’s expectations. In many research studies, people are given a normal sugar pill precisely to compare people’s expectations of what they think they are taking with the real McCoy.


Anyway, it remains to be seen which competing brand customer will light up next to.

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