If the government steals brands from the tobacco companies, what’s next?

Leo BajzertIn this guest post Leo Bajzert – who counts British American Tobacco as a client – argues that the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill amounts to brand theft

Imagine waking up one day and discovering the Government has taken over your brand. Not just that, they’ve effectively outlawed it.  

All those dollars spent building it. All those great ideas supporting it. And that’s not to mention your legally registered trademarks and intellectual properties.

Banning brands might sound far-fetched, even borderline Orwellian. But it’s happening.

The first draft of the Tobacco Plain Packaging Bill was announced in early April. Put simply, it forces tobacco companies to replace any on-pack branding with a common shade of olive green. All brand names and variant descriptions are to be written in a standardised font and size.

To many, that might sound like a good idea. But here’s the thing: it’s a legal product.

Many of the implications of this legislation are already being discussed in the media. But from a marketing perspective, the pertinent question has to be: if the precedent is set, where will it stop?

If breaking the link between brands and consumers is deemed to have been successful with tobacco, the same argument could easily, possibly wrongly, be used elsewhere. Maybe destroying affinity with alcohol brands will reduce consumption. Maybe plain fast-food packaging would be less enticing. (That one’s already been suggested.)

The same logic could be applied to a range of products currently on the wrong side of pressure groups and Canberra lobbyists.

G2 has British American Tobacco as a global client. As Creative Director I’ve heard plenty of solid arguments both for and against plain packaging. But I’m also a libertarian. So I’m opposed in principal to a Government abolishing branding in a legal, if controversial, FMCG category. And I’d feel the same way if it were any other product.

Today tobacco companies face having their ability to compete in the marketplace forcibly removed. In five, ten or even 20 years time, who knows? It’s worth thinking about.

  • Leo Bajzert is Creative Director of G2 whose clients include British American Tobacco

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