Thursday, 9 June 2011

A two pipe problem!

A strange convergence of elements have been working on me recently. When I was back in Ireland at the weekend I caught up with the BBC modern re-look at Sherlock Holmes. I loved the way they tackled his love of pondering over the clues of a crime by sucking on a pipe full of tobacco by substituting it with nicotine patches! A 'two pipe problem' eloquently became a 'two patch problem'. Later that weekend I stumbled across an article in my daily newspaper outlining plans by the Australian government to render cigarette packets olive-green, supposedly because it's a dull, unappealing colour that will put off potential smokers. This was in response to recommendations by The World Health Organisation, in its Framework Convention on Tobacco Control, where it advises authorities to "consider adopting measures to restrict or prohibit the use of logos, colours, brand images or promotional information". After I read the piece I was left wondering, would this work? Would it reduce the number of people smoking?
I personally haven't had a cigarette for 7 years but I did smoke for a good few years before that and during that time I was never really aware of the packaging having an impact on my choice of cigarette,  I do how ever remember the fantastic press ads  on the back of the Sunday supplements for Benson & Hedges (carried out by CDP) and Silk Cut (carried out by Alexandra Taylor while at Saatchi &Saatchi).

These ads were in response to stricter government legislation that appeared in the 1970's restricting how the tobacco industry could advertise their products. No more models with a cigarette hanging out of their mouths or suggested hints of sex appeal as before so a new approach had to be found and this new approach to my mind made smoking more intriguing and attractive than any photo of a cigarette could!
A press ad for cigarettes pre-legislation

At the time I had no idea about government legislation so these images worked almost like puzzles making me stare at them in an attempt to try and figure out what was going on! Now as an adult and as a designer I can see that this was the result of a more limited brief. Once a tried and tested route has been closed off it makes the agency to  have to think a little more laterally and the client to be a little more adventurous in their marketing strategy.

I know similar plans to limit tobacco packaging are a foot in the UK with "plain generic packaging" being mooted, but again with a limited brief and a good design studio I think that this could see an increase in smoking figures and almost as if to prove my point take a look at the packaging solution created by Build.
Build were briefed by Icon to work within the proposed government guidelines and to come up with a packaging solution, these were the results;
Build's approach was to strip away all extraneous information and to reduce the packaging to the bare minimum required to convey the information. All the text is set in OCR-B and  brings to the fore the stuff that is usually hid in 5pt on the back such as the ingredients. If you want to read more visit their excellent blog here.

Personally I think these designs look a lot better and a lot more considered than the packs that grace tobacconists shelves today. They would probably appeal more to a youth market and increase smoking rather than make it appear unappealing.  So even when the Australian government pass their new law limiting tobacco packaging then I'm sure a clever agency will work with in their brief and find a creative way to make them look better!  This of course raises the age old question of design ethics, but that's another post!
Maybe to make things more challenging the Government should also stipulated in the legislation that all text has to be set in 20pt Comic Sans and that the packaging can only be laid out in Microsoft Word! We will see, as Sherlock himself would have said "The game is a foot!"

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