Many companies spend a fortune on branding.
However, the investment is not always proportional to the desired goal to be achieved, such as improved public relations, becoming a top-of-mind or leading brand, and earning customer trust. Marketers can forget that while the branding process is within their control, the brand itself is not.
The branding process can be easily defined as the marketing actions that are apparent and tangible. Designing a logo, choosing a combination of brand colors, picking out the appropriate images and messages on the promotional media — these are examples of the branding process.
However, the brand of a product, that is, society’s perception of a specific product belonging to a specific company, cannot be controlled as easily as changing the color of a logo.
To be able to steer a brand perception to a desired position, you must learn from the best in the world of branding — the tobacco industry.
How the tobacco industry advertise to make cigarettes look pretty
The tobacco industry has spent the last fifty years trying to convince people that their products are beneficial in some way. Until the 1970s, explicit tobacco advertising was legal in most parts of the world. TV commercials, radio sponsors, daily newspaper advertisements, billboards and magazines display tobacco products being used in a positive context.
Fritz Gahagan, a former marketing consultant for several tobacco companies, shared his insight into the general tactics that the companies used to market their products:
“The problem is how do you sell death? How do you sell a poison that kills 350,000 people per year, a thousand people a day? You do it with the great open spaces … the mountains, the open places, the lakes coming up to the shore, They do it with healthy young people. They do it with athletes. How could a whiff of a cigarette be of any harm in a situation like that? It couldn’t be... there’s too much fresh air, too much health – too much absolute exuding of youth and vitality – that’s the way they do it” (Gahagan, 1992).
Prior to the complete ban of tobacco advertising on mass media, tobacco promotion seemed to have a spill-over effect. Their advertising content seemed to appeal to the youth, when they introduced cartoon characters of brand mascots, colorful packaging, and flavored cigarettes.
How to brand your products and company in an ethical way
It is clear that the tobacco industry has succeeded in branding their products, albeit through manipulation of facts. However, the fifty-year rise and fall of tobacco advertising should not be considered as an afterthought. The tobacco industry has paved a way to modern branding and advertising, and here are some lessons you can take away from them.
1. Don’t advertise the product, but advertise the experience first
When promoting a brand new business, we often get caught up in ensuring that viewers know about our business as much as possible. We may try to maximize the advertising opportunity by including catchy words like ‘promo’, ‘discounts’, ‘free’, percentages, and numbers with a strike-through, in an attempt to push sales aggressively.
Ultimately, what we produce is noise — there are too many messages to focus on. Viewers may not even care about most of the messages, if at all. A viewer that is already indifferent to your very first messages is lost future customer.
How do we fix this? By advertising the product experience and value, and not the product and price. In some cases, it’s not necessary to be explicit about what product is being sold.
For example, a Singapore Airlines advertisement shows a flight attendant in her full batik uniform visiting various people in separate locations — a little girl in a monochrome forest, a market analyst in an office, a couple in an opera house. At each location, she took the initiative to do what adds value to each person’s life — to bring colored pencils to the girl, to bring coffee and food to the men and women.
These actions were shown initially not on board a Singapore Airlines flight. Instead the viewers are to focus on what the company advertises — the compassionate and thoughtful service of the flight attendants.
2. Introduce an iconic character to bring ‘boring products’ to life
Some products are exciting, like sports attire, automobiles, games, and gadgets. Others are more mundane as they subtly embed themselves into the fabric of daily life. For tobacco companies, their products have become part of a smoker’s daily life, and creating iconic characters like the Marlboro man and Lucky girl gave their products the appeal to men and women.
The same principle can also be applied to household products, like processed food. Arab Dairy’s product is Panda Cheese. The family-friendly packaging and promotional materials all aimed at consumers in households in Egypt. Of course, this was obviously the right choice for many other products similar to Panda Cheese.
However, Arab Dairy’s TV commercial campaign Never Say No To Panda puts a twist into this advertising trope. In each short commercial, adult characters are shown in various situations — in a grocery store with their child, in an office eating lunch, in a hospital, etc.
In each situation, they come across Panda Cheese, to which they decline. Not long after, a panda (actually, a person in a panda suit) creates a scene and causes minor destruction all around them — a punishment for saying no to Panda. The panda then pushes the product into the close-up view and a Buddy Holly’s song plays in the background.
Customers don’t have to relate to the Panda as smokers would to Marlboro man and Lucky girl. They just have to know that the Panda character exists, now as a TV urban legend.
3. Improve customer experience with the packaging
For the tobacco industry, packaging is one of the last methods to deliver their brand identity into the eyes of their consumers. They make an effort to ensure that their packaging stays true to the brand character despite the ugly warning label. They do this by keeping the packaging pocket-sized and using consistent color schemes that is unique to a brand and its varieties.
Other products have no issue with this, so it is best for brands to make the most out of the packaging. For certain, Apple makes the consumers’ unboxing experience as unique and pleasant as possible. Unlike most companies that sell computers, Apple pays attention to how customers would open the box and admire their brand new computer as it lies snugly within its foam bed.
When comparing the packaging of similar products made by other companies, you may notice that the surface of their box is riddled with labels and stickers, which does not match the brand’s visual identity. On the other hand, Apple’s products packaging — from the iMac to the MacBook Pros — stays clean and minimalistic, true to the design principles of Apple products.
Packaging strategy for service businesses — is it possible?
It may be easy to talk about packaging in terms of tangible products. What about service businesses? Does packaging exist for these types of businesses? The answer is simply, yes. Consider the tangible things that you deliver to your customers.
For us, it’s a fully functional and custom website, blog and social media content for organic and paid traffic, and marketing advice. However, while it’s true that we offer these to our clients, they are not all that we offer to clients.
We chiefly offer convenience and guidance. The world of digital marketing is vast and can be tricky to navigate. Our job is to free up your time so that you can maximize on what you do best in your business.
For this, we package our service by enhancing the line of communication between us and clients, by remaining transparent with your projects, and providing advice whenever it is due.