Is the power of aesthetics stronger than the power of brand? The case for plain packaging in the tobacco industry

Alessandra Vita

Student thesis: Master thesis

Abstract

Recently, many countries proposed mandatory plain packages for cigarettes in order to fight smoking habits. The main rationale behind this is that packages are the very last advertising media for tobacco companies, and convey all the brand imagery and character that make smoking attractive; allegedly, by reducing the aesthetics of the package, this differentiation will be lost. If packages will be altered this much, will smokers still be so attracted to their preferred brand, irrespective of how it looks, or will they consider all brands by the same standards? This study tries to assess how smokers would unconsciously respond to such a visual change in package, also considering their personal brand preferences. An eye-tracking study will be coupled with a memory task, in order to assess both attentional bias and ability to remember brands according to package information, personal preferences and deprivation level. Our main hypothesis is that smokers will be more attracted to and remember better their preferred brand (with respect to a non-preferred one) and full packages (with respect to plain), thus supporting the legislation’s rationale. Generalized Linear Model analysis and ANOVAs were run, and results show that smokers are more visually attracted to their preferred brand with respect to non-preferred ones only when full packages are displayed: the attentional bias for plain packages shows no meaningful difference among brands. However, this does not seem to translate into a memory effect: the preferred brand is remembered significantly more than non-preferred ones, and equally in full or plain visuals. In the end, what this experiment seems to suggest is that the looks of a package are very relevant for prospective or non-smokers mainly, because their attentional bias also indicates a marked propensity to stare at full packages. On the other hand, for heavy smokers the looks of their cigarette brands do not really matter in the end: once a Marlboro smoker, always a Marlboro smoker.

EducationsCand.merc.smc Strategic Market Creation, (Graduate Programme) Final Thesis
LanguageEnglish
Publication date2012
Number of pages88