H/T Harley for Tobacco Control: A Wolf in Sheep’s Clothing, exploring the psychology of fear in antismoking warnings:
So look at the gruesome image on the packet. Read the warning, “Smoking Kills.” And now look at the recommended action… Sorry, I will reword that statement, look FOR the recommended action – No, I do not see one. Ok, so it is implied, ‘stop smoking.’ Will that be perceived as ‘effective’ advice? Well, maybe effective if it was within some range of possibility, but is it?
It set me thinking about how ineffective, in my case, the images and warnings are.
I suppose that the main thing is that I keep my tobacco in a tin, and the only time I’m likely to see images or warnings is when I re-fill the tin from a bought pack. And even then I don’t often notice them.
Occasionally, if there’s a really vile image on the pack, I’ll stick something over it. For me a nasty picture is just a nasty picture, with no content other than its nastiness. It’s like seeing a photo of someone who’s been decapitated. It’s just ugly, and I don’t want to look.
But I occasionally find myself reading the warnings, because they actually have an iota of content in them. And I wonder whether they really believe that putting something in big black capital letters actually adds any force to their message, as if making it shouty will drive home the message. And their messages are always shouted. They’re bellowed at the top of their voices.
Perhaps I should write my blog that way? Have it all in bold capitals? That would hammer home the message, wouldn’t it? Yes, I’m sure it would. Well, it works on cigarette packs, doesn’t it?
After reading about the psychology of it all, I moved on to An Outlandish Thought:
It goes like this…The Health Industry are trying to get young people to take up cigarette smoking.
The rational behind this being that they use publicity to highlight the dangers of cigarettes, therefore making them more attractive to thrill seeking youngsters. They emphasise that cigarettes are only for adults, again, making them more attractive. They hide them out of sight, and once again, an attraction. They have depicted tobacco as being ‘naughty’, something we should not do, and that society does not approve – “Wow! Let’s do it!” They have denormalized cigarette smoking, making it exotic and an act of rebellion.
To which my response was to think that if the Health Industry are trying to get young people to take up smoking, then the Tobacco Industry must be trying just as hard. Maybe they’re the ones that are really behind the health warnings? Maybe it’s a new marketing strategy? For years and years they’d been selling cigarettes with stupid anodyne names like Marlboro and Camel and Piccadilly, and slowly watching their customers drift away.
Something had to be done. And they decided to change their whole strategy, and started to portray their product as something very dangerous. Rather than play down the dangers of smoking, they decided to play them up. One route might have been to market cigarettes as Coffin Nails (I spent a while designing a packet: see right), or Russian Roulette, or Cancer Sticks, or Early Death. “If the first one doesn’t kill you, the second one will.”
Smoking a cigarette would be like dicing with death, playing russian roulette, and getting a big rush whenever you survive. It would require real courage to light one up. Not like smoking Pall Mall or Silk Cut, which is totally for wusses.
But if the tobacco companies themselves didn’t think of it, it is now the strategy that is being forced on them by Tobacco Control. They’re being required to market their product as something dangerous. So perhaps they should just go with the flow?
After all, the new marketing strategy does indeed seem to be working. Smoking prevalence was falling steadily, decade after decade, but now with smoking bans and graphic health warnings, the rot has stopped, and smoking prevalence is either flat-lining or rising slightly. And when they start selling Coffin Nails™ and I’ll Die Coughing™, sales will pick up sharply. Non-smokers will keep a packet or two of Russian Roulette™ around the house, just to show their children. Even antismokers will be unable to resist offering smokers a few Cancer Sticks™.
The same reverse marketing strategy could be used for other products. The Full English Breakfast would be renamed as The Heart Attack On A Plate. Burgers would be marketed as Junk Food. Italian food would be associated with the Mafia or Cosa Nostra. And so on. Instead of promoting the benefits of their products, they’d promote their costs.
I’m not convinced. But it’s an interesting thought to toy with.