Remember the recent illegal cigarette advertising campaign! Billboards like the one showing a scary looking dude and the statement: 'WARNING: The money you spend on illegal cigarettes, he could use to buy guns.' Well a lot of people complained to the ASA about these ads. And their objections were upheld – the ASA ruled that, as there was absolutely no proof of any link between illegal cigarette sales and other forms of crime, the ads unjustifiably played on fear. An appeal has been filed.
If you thought this was some kind of public service advertising , prepare to be disappointed. The campaign was, in fact, sponsored by BAT, a company that has 80% of the SA cigarette market. And therein lies another objection to the ads, one that the ASA neatly sidestepped. Some people argued that the ads contravened the ban of tobacco advertising - the Tobacco Products Control Act 1993 makes it illegal to advertise or promote tobacco products by 'direct or indirect means', and this includes 'fostering a positive attitude' towards cigarettes through the use of any 'brand element'.
So how do ads aimed at dissuading people from buying illegal cigarettes promote cigarettes? It's subliminal, say the objectors, by telling people not to buy illegal cigarettes, BAT was fostering a positive attitude towards legal cigarettes. And, by using brand elements that are associated with its products, particularly Peter Stuyvesant, BAT was blatantly promoting its own cigarettes. According to the objectors, the most important BAT brand element used in the illegal cigarette campaign was, believe it or not, the get-up of BAT's tobacco health warning - a blue and white colour combination, together with the word 'WARNING' in caps and Helvetica script, surrounded by a border.
Branding guru Martin Lindstrom calls this tosh neuromarkeing, and he makes an extraordinary claim - not only are tobacco health warnings ineffective, they actually promote smoking behaviour by activating the brain's nucleus accumbens (don't know either!) This is why the tobacco companies have, of late, been emphasising brand elements like colour rather than name. And this is also why the astute Australian government wants all branding removed from cigarette packets (other than the brand name in tiny script ), in order to break the link between tobacco craving and distinctive brand characteristics.
Another tactic used by BAT, say the objectors, was to list various things that people should look out for to determine if cigarettes are illegal, one of them being a price of under R13.50. In the process advertising the price of its own products. Sneaky or what! Pity the ASA didn't consider the matter.
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.