Background: Cigarette packaging is a key marketing strategy for promoting brand image. Plain packaging has been proposed to limit brand image, but tobacco companies would resist removal of branding design elements.
Method: We employed a three (brand types) by four (degree of plain packaging) between-subjects experimental design, using an internet online method to expose 813 adult Australian smokers to one randomly selected cigarette pack, after which respondents completed ratings of the pack.
Results: Compared to current cigarette packs with full branding, cigarette packs that displayed progressively fewer branding design elements were perceived increasingly unfavourably in terms of smokers’ appraisals of the packs, the smokers who might smoke such packs, and the inferred experience of smoking a cigarette from these packs. For example, cardboard brown packs with the number of enclosed cigarettes displayed on the front of the pack and featuring only the brand name in small standard font at the bottom of the pack face were rated as significantly less attractive and popular than original branded packs. Smokers of these plain packs were rated as significantly less trendy/stylish, less sociable/outgoing and less mature than smokers of the original pack. Finally, compared with original packs, smokers inferred that cigarettes from these plain packs would be less rich in tobacco, less satisfying and of lower quality tobacco.
Conclusion: Plain packaging policies that remove most brand design elements are likely to be most successful in removing cigarette brand image associations.
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