New regulations come into force in the US next week, banning the use of the word ‘light’ on cigarette packaging. The move is clearly based on the insight that ‘light’ connotes a healthier product to consumers – not something that goes down well with the regulators. Marlboro’s cunning response (see below) has been to communicate heavily that consumers need only ask for the ‘Marlboros in the gold pack’ instead, but this manoeuvre is also now under investigation by the FDA.
It’s interesting news in and of itself but is made even more interesting by the fact that regulation in tobacco has in the past acted as a forewarning of impending regulation in the alcohol industry, eg. advertising bans, sports sponsorship bans etc. So it sparks the thought: what may happen to the marketing of beer in coming years, where in the US Bud Light and Coors Light outsell their standard counterparts? If the same thinking is applied to alcohol, will we see consumers in the future having to ask for “a Bud in the blue bottle?”. Or will Budweiser respond to this as an early warning and try to adopt a new subtler proxy for communicating the lightness of Bud Light?
Australia’s regulations have banned the use of words like ‘mild’ and ‘light’ on tobacco packaging for years now. So just as the tobacco industry may indicate the likely regulatory future for alcohol, Australian regulation has tended to act as the forerunner to regulation in the US and the wider world. So, it’s interesting to note that the Australians are currently considering banning all on-pack branding for cigarettes, allowing only a small reference to the brand name at the bottom corner of the pack in a homogeneous typeface. As they protest the proposed move, the cigarette manufacturers are desperately trying to prepare for them, even redesigning the cigarettes themselves to act as one of the few communications media they have left. So, it’s interesting to think: will we see differently coloured beers in the future as beer cans and bottles potentially come under attack and become bland and unidentifiable?
Marketing cigarettes and alcohol used to be seen as glamorous. For marketers, at least, they’re just becoming bloody hard work!