A world without brands

A world without brands

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Blank Cigarette Packaging

Can you imagine a world with no brands, logos or differentiation? For the Australian cigarette industry, this could soon become a reality.

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Australian prime minister Kevin Rudd is set to invoke the fury of tobacco companies with a world-first ‘plain packaging’ anti-smoking scheme.

With up to 20,000 people dying from smoking-related illnesses each year in Australia, the premier has banned all logos, colours and promotional text from cigarette packets from 2012.

However the government’s health warnings and graphic pictures depicting the dangers of smoking will remain on packets.

Under the new laws, “brand names and product names will have to be displayed in a standard colour, font style and position”.

I personally haven’t seen anything like this, in any industry so it will be interesting to see how it plays out, not just in terms of sales but also in the world of politics. The Australian Broadcasting Corporation claims “research has shown that industry branding and packaging design reduces the effectiveness of graphic health warnings about smoking”.

Can you imagine a world free from branding, advertising, logos or promotional text? Imagine that every blog you read, every website you visited, every item you bought, all being the same. It’s quite a thought… and many of us would be without a job.

Fresh Jive No Logo

On a similar note, Freshjive, a hip-hop streetwear clothing line recently decided to drop their logo all together which comes back to this “no brand / logo” approach… where can one draw the line of ‘what a logo is’ or ‘what a logo is not’? After enough exposure, even a simple text treatment (or a black rectangle) can become an identifiable mark and after all, isn’t that what a logo is for?

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39 thoughts on “A world without brands”

  1. I think the lack of branding is branding in itself – it’s just not branding the way it has always been done on cigarette packaging. These limitations will only serve to drive design innovation harder. The most successful designs going forward will come as a result of looking at these new parameters as a new challenge instead of an imposition.

  2. i can’t believe people think this kind of action is a “step in the right direction”. People should have the freedom of choice, regardless of the pictures that are displayed to us through tiny boxes on shelves.

    Our freedom’s are dwindling by the second, taken away from us by sanctimonious, empty, soulless suits, who are intent on dictating every facit of our lives. For god’s sake, give us the freedom to smoke, freedom to kill our selfs if we so desire! What business is it of people who exist in the god damn shadows. leave us alone, please.

  3. I’m not against the government regulating the advertising of controlled substances. This may flop or it may not, but they have every reason and incentive to reduce tobacco related disease and death. For instance, they control drug adverts that have to include all that microscopic gibberish and speed-reading nonsense to comply. But really, how effective is it? It forces them to pay more for adverts because it takes twice as long to say something. Guess who pays for the extra pages and seconds of adverts? Consumers…

    But in the case of the cigarettes, I’m not opposed on principle.

    It would be another matter if the gov wanted to control brands not under federal regulation though. I can’t see that happening.

    We are talking cigarettes though, and we know the branding is a big deal or they wouldn’t invest in the marketing. Surely we know that, as visitors on a logo design blog!

    Remember, laws are for the lawless. If it wasn’t for gov’t restraint, we’d all be smoking from birth to early death, because the marketing would end up on cereal boxes and saturday morning cartoons. I mean, did you see the youtube of Fred and Barney smoking?


    Barney, voiced by Mel Blanc (Bugs Bunny!!) died of smoking related issues. So did Fred and other actors from the show.

    So yes, it’s not a bad thing that some things are not allowed to have brands of a certain kind due to regulation.

    The great thing about flopped regulation is that it’s easy to evaluate. If in a few years cigarette sales aren’t meaningfully affected downwards, they can roll back failed laws. But I have a sneaking suspicion that BRANDING IS EFFECTIVE and we’ll see it affect sales.

  4. I just spent a week in Cuba, which was an interesting experience, especially relating to advertising and branding.

    Specifically… there is no advertising whatsoever, with the exception of some ads in the airport for arriving tourists. You will walk down the main street of Trinidad or Havana and see not a single logo. Restaurants are found by asking a guide, barely any of them have any public signage.

    Brands do exist in Cuba, of course. But you’re not bombarded by them 24/7 – and it could be argued that you don’t need to be, seeing as there’s very little brand choice. If you want beer, you can have Cristal if you like light beer, or Bucanero if you want dark.

    Ironically, the most prominent branding I saw in Cuba was on tobacco. Cigarette packets aren’t marred by health warnings like they are here in New Zealand, or in Australia. Tobacco is cheap, and there’s a ridiculous amount of choice.

    Also, an interesting observation: the complete lack of exposure to branding has led to Cubans sticking Pioneer decals, or other logos, on their car, not for prestige, but because they like the way the sticker looks.

  5. I personally believe that smokers will smoke even if the smokes came in garbage bags! I dont think this will have too much of an effect on the sales..but time will tell!

    I think i state the obvious when i say logos stripped of all their color,designs and the tiny details that make them great would be quite dull.But as you said Jacob a simple text on a black background can leave a significant mark in peoples mind…But i like i said i dont believe for a second that this will deter smokers !I know quite a few smokers and i know they will buy these smokes regardless! Maybe you should strip down your whole site of styles for an experiment Jacob!? Haha..

  6. How do you think this will influence the market? I observe that smokers seem not to care about these things. It could be effective in subliminal ways though. Will it deter teenagers from taking up smoking? maybe?

  7. The world would be a pretty boring place without brands. However, In the case of cigarettes however I believe that (as much as I disagree with many of the current govt. policies…NBN anyone?) this is a step in the right direction.
    The whole point of branding is to create a unique identity for a product that will appeal to a particular target audience. With a product as dangerous cigarettes I don’t think tobacco companies should have the chance to influence mind of consumers.
    Prohibition is simply not going to work – so at least this is something.

  8. This is a very interesting subject and one I’ve never thought about before. I like how Freshjive dropped there logo, but the very simple and attractive B&W rectangle is definitely a recognizable mark whether they like it or not…

  9. selling cancer is not a brand, this is an exception here. when cigarette manufacturers have lost their moral obligation to society and allowed their products to inadvertently affect the health of millions of people (including minors), then this move is what should hurt them where it hurts. those that continue to buy these brandless products are digging their own graves. it is unlikely to have other brandless products that are not the second most largest cause of preventable deaths … good move, kevin rudd 🙂

  10. Jacob
    I think it’s highly likely that Krudd will lose office before this particular piece of madness is enacted…
    Even the Labor Party is starting to wake up to him!

  11. Wow! This is really something! I really envy the good fortune of having innovative good policies and good decision making. (in a good way)
    Well done Australia!

  12. This is a great step step in a good direction. Branding as important as it is shouldn’t be displayed on cigarettes. Too many people die!!!

  13. It would seem that the question of context and intent comes into question.

    A surprising fact I learned concerning image/branding is that shoots for fast food products are conducted in the same way they would for live fashion models, down to the make up!

    So with the ridding of logos on a clothing brand in a market heavily driven by name (at the expense of design, mind you), a statement that’s essentially the same in the case of the cigarrettes has much less far-reaching implications.

  14. you are talking about life in Soviet Union. There were a lot of things without brands, logos and even packaging! I think it’s not too bad at all, because we pay for a product, not for a brand in this case.

  15. As an artist, I would find lack of packaging and graphics dull and boring. But I’m sure there are people who could care less. The cigarette package for instance may work for up and coming smokers. But smokers who have been doing it for years probably know what it’s doing to their body and have passed the point of addicted to stop. People believe the government is out to get us, control us. Fact of the matter is, the government is regulated. Corporations, for the most part, are not. Then again, I live in the states so it may be a lot different for others.

  16. Australia is bold taking a step like this. Still it is a step in the right direction none the less. I couldn’t really imagine a world without branding. It’s one of those things that truly outweighs its full potential. Thanks for the interesting article.

  17. Mr. Cass I do believe that given the comments, you have quite a future in “though-provoking” blogging as opposed to just straight up Design observations!

    To some of the above: I’m a smoker. I’m neither proud nor ashamed of my habit. But I do love to smoke. As difficult as it is to my body, it is—as you can imagine—hard to quit. Ask any smoker: quitting is almost like losing a best friend.

    That said—

    This is a brand: It is a scarlet letter. But for those of you who think that smoking rightly deserves this treatment, I’d question you to think again. Just smoking?

    Why not disheveled, irreverent, disoriented drunken young adults on every bottle of cheap Vodka?

    Why not lipo-ed fat in sterile body waste bags on the side of every Hershey’s chocolate bar?

    If some people had their way, there’d be AIDS victims’ faces on every condom wrapper!

    MANY “common” consumables are deadly. And, in my honest opinion, the lingering “chic” of smoking far outshines the inhumanity of a party full of smash-drunken adults, or the frumpiness of an obese individual. (Remembering that no one mentioned is a bad person, simply for bad choices.)

    The Aussie government, as simply a matter of fact, makes a political statement—albeit popular—when they do something like this. Those that say “it’s a long time coming” are misled.

  18. I recently posed this question (before the article) about what would it take for him to be pro for a lack of branding. My example was if all cereal was on plain gray boxes with a simple black typeface for the name and any pertinent info, would he do it if it saved him a dollar? What would be your point where branding becomes less a point than the product or the savings?
    We both agreed that regardless, it would certainly be a boring/lifeless thing to be in favor of. Though, I am not in favor of the smoking branding law they are trying to enact here. For one, I don’t like nanny government, but two, I agree with Brittany that says that smokers will smoke regardless of their packaging. Though I could see how it would inhibit new smokers from arising (particularly image conscious teens).
    I’m definitely interested to see if this legislation pans out or not

  19. “After enough exposure, even a simple text treatment (or a black rectangle) can become an identifiable mark and after all, isn’t that what a logo is for?”

    “Enough exposure” = “enough money thrown for advertising”. I totally agree… the most boring logo can become the most recognized brand in the world if you have enough money to promote it.

  20. Thank you for all your comments, I haven’t had a chance to reply this week though I will get back to you all soon, after the long weekend. Thanks for your patience.

  21. It may seem like something good, but what most people don’t get is that, one, nobody’s being fooled into buying something. Two, and what is a whole lot scarier is that this opens the door to removing branding for things like fast food, alcohol, or soda, all of which contribute to weight related deaths.

    Personally, I don’t care what happens to cigarette companies, they can burn for all I care (pun intended). But when the government starts telling people that they aren’t smart enough to make informed decision, I’m insulted.

  22. Ok, Mike, see what you just did there, was totally ignore the power of everything this very site stands for, down to this very post!

    Don’t you realize that, independent of consumers’ collective intelligence, there are people who go to school and study the science of making something and anything appealing to buy on appearance alone?

    Those are called commercial graphic designers. Thats like saying people don’t need help of larger authorities to avoid monopolies of people who went to school for business, or malpractice form people who went to school for medicine or harm from people who study martial arts.

    Jacob’s site and career, along with many other individuals and firms, is very proof that branding is a powerful amoral tool to be employed in many ways. Not all of those ways can be excused away by saying someone simply has freedom of choice.

    (Ok I’m going to interrupt and end my comment with this link:)


  23. Some very strong points for both poles. I favour non-brand over brand. Brands adhere to the “he who shouts loudest” principal. Non-brands rely upon quality of product/word of mouth. Which works even in the face of consumer targeted ad-noise-ium.
    “Choice’ is something available only to those of us lucky enough to understand what is being offered. In this tobacco related topic – choice is only available to those of us* over a certain age, which would seemingly rule out those likely to be affected by the colour of the “brand” packaging. The government spin upon this; ‘raise more tax by not banning cigarettes.. look like we are being good politician who care about health.. be seen to be beneficial for the people.’
    * In Australia, local regulations.

  24. For me, I prefer the cigarettes with no logos or branding (*only) so that the youngsters of today will not be lured about this product. I really hate smoking and I hate it what it does to me if I can smell the smoke. I am not smoking but smelling the smoke is like you are smoking.

  25. “But when the government starts telling people that they aren’t smart enough to make informed decision, I’m insulted.”

    It’s not that people aren’t smart. It’s that groups of highly-paid marketers and VPs sit around and hatch schemes that are so damned clever that you can’t possibly foresee, prevent, or remove them on your own no matter how smart you are.

    That’s why we have lawyers.

    And that’s why we have government.

    Remember, laws are for the lawless. Laws protect the innocent, smart and dumb alike, from people that connive to oppress others and line their pockets by force.

    Part of the allure of smoking is the brilliant packaging, the image of hip or sophisticated or rugged or what have you. If the marketing wasn’t so great, there would be fewer smoking related deaths.

  26. The only thing that will change is that poeple who sell tobacco will be annoyed in finding the right type. For the rest it will change nothing. Perhaps poeple will ask for the less expansives and so give the majors the opportunity to earn more money…

  27. A world with no brands would be super strange!! but i don’t really see how stopping the branding of cigarettes will stop smokers to be honest.

    Good post!

  28. Creo que es una buena medida. Esto deberia de hacerse tambien en Mexico, mi pais.

  29. It won’t stop people from smoking. People were making and smoking cigarettes before there was any mass production or packaging.
    So, goo luck with that.

  30. From what I understand, the reason why Kevin Rudd has taken this decision is because “research has shown that industry branding and packaging design reduces the effectiveness of graphic health warnings about smoking”. Whether this is true or false, my hunch would be that Kev is under pressure to reduce the number of smoking-related illnesses in AUS; and some company has presented them with a bunch of insights, one of them being branding vs visual anti-smoking message effectiveness. Someone in Kev’s posse has homed in on this particular insight and decided that it will save the world. I bet there were a ton of other, better insights that they could have used, and it wouldn’t have resulted in removing the branding.

    Will it motivate people to stop smoking? Probably a small handful who are already thinking about quitting anyway, and could have been touched in other ways. I think that what all governments don’t realize is that scare tactics only work on a minority, and it’s not a sustainable way encourage new behaviours. The same applies to alcohol. Telling someone they will die of liver disease won’t stop them drinking (as the majority of us have an ‘it will never happen to me mentality’); but looking at the reasons why people drink (or smoke) would be more effective in the long run. When is any government going to understand that it’s the emotional insights that lead to effective ideas?

    In my opinion, which is very humble ;-), this is the saddest thing to happen to the world of marketing. Not only it is ethically questionable about where the line is drawn re governmental control, but it shows that the ruling suits have no understanding of brands and how they work. What’s next? No branding on food to stop obese people eating? I’ll stop there.

    FYI, I don’t smoke.

  31. This is interesting and branding subject. Smoker are always interest in cigarets. I could very proud if stop mass people smoke. But it is not possible for me, because it depends on man to man. So, vest of wish to people for that decision.

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