Present perceptions and the future for brands and users

The Blogfather looks at the perception of nicotine, what tobacco product legislation means for brands and users, and finds a new, unique brand.

I keep losing my friends. One minute they are there, full of joviality, but then I go to the bar, or the toilet, and come back to an empty table. Just wet rings of beer where their pints once stood. I frantically look around for a sign of them. Nothing.

Sounds like the start to a new Netflix drama, but it’s just an annoying and mundane part of life, for some of my closest friends like a smoke.

‘Do you want to come outside with me?’ They ask. No, I don’t really, but seeing as it’s only me and you out, Pete, I’ve no bloody choice. So out I go, into the Siberian wilderness where the modern smoker has been exiled. I can’t help but recall this brilliant episode of the IT Crowd.

“I think the legislation has to be considered good precisely because, even if it were abolished, much of the behaviour it created would stick.” - Rory Sutherland

To be serious for a moment, I actually think the smoking ban has worked, although I talk as a non-smoker. No more coming home stinking of smoke with red, watery eyes. Yet that famous smoking/e-cigarette enthusiast Rory Sutherland is of a similar mind: “I think the legislation has to be considered good precisely because, even if it were abolished, much of the behaviour it created would stick.”

The ban is here to stay, and with standardised cigarette packs to come in 2016, identity will become even harder to maintain for tobacco brands. Hugh Roberts, strategy partner at Design Bridge, has some interesting thoughts on this, which are pertinent for the entire nicotine product industry:

“It seems obvious that by stripping design away from tobacco packaging we are helping consumers to make the right choice…to give up smoking…but perhaps…we are doing something that is even more dangerous to 
society than smoking. We are reducing the freedom of consumers to make their own decisions. We are reducing the ability of people to be individual. We are forgetting that consumers are not rational beings, that sometimes we want to make an emotional choice.”

Freedom and diversity of choice is a good thing. Without it, we wouldn’t have got The Marlboro Man. First conceived by Leo Burnett back in 1954, it’s one of the most successful ad campaigns of all time. Filtered cigarettes were initially seen as feminine and used mostly by women. Yet the succession of Marlboro men – sea captains, construction workers and, most famously, cowboys – helped Marlboro achieve a dramatic repositioning to rugged masculinity in a matter of months (although, ironically, I am compelled to breakout into a rendition of 'YMCA' after listing these 'rugged' types). The evolution of the Marlboro branding also gave us one of the most beautiful looking F1 cars, driven by the equally iconic Ayrton Senna.



The evolution of the Marlboro branding also gave us one of the most beautiful looking F1 cars, driven by the equally iconic Ayrton Senna.

It’s no longer acceptable behaviour to be seen smoking in most public scenarios. Yet regulation is already getting a stranglehold on what looked for a while to be the socially acceptable and healthy alternative to smoking: vaping. May 2016 is the deadline for the Tobacco Products Directive (TPD) implementation across the EU, which will almost certainly result in huge restrictions on vape product variety and advertising.

All of this is also a problem for trade. Their customers spend more time away from buying drinks, throwing chips down on the roulette tables, etc., reducing profit. Noise pollution is an increasing by-product problem for businesses, with all these outdoor smokers congregating in built up areas into the early hours.

So, with the vapers likely to follow the smokers out the door, and business owners frustrated by punters going outside, what is the answer? We have snuff and snus, but there is certainly a niche opening for a product that can liberate the smoker from their bleak exile.

A little research uncovered one possible answer: Nicoccino. It’s a pure nicotine strip, free from tobacco and chemicals, which is placed under your lip and absorbed against your gum.

It certainly seems like a pioneering product. It was long in the making, some 10 years in fact, but this makes sense in light of the legislation it could well encounter. They needed to get it right.

James Higgs, International Marketing Director of Nicoccino says; “The must win battles lie within improving the public’s education with regards to nicotine.”

This is a key point. Nicotine is maligned and demonised in large part due to its association with tobacco. Nicotine is named after the tobacco plant Nicotiana tabacum, dating back to the 16th century, so there’s a long, intrinsic link with tobacco that’s tough to break. But it is distinct from tobacco. It doesn’t help when the EU does stuff like puts e-cigarettes under the new ‘Tobacco Products Directive’, despite the fact they do not actually contain tobacco. Leading global institutions need to be more clued up and lead progressive change.

New research is showing nicotine is not the monster many people think. On its own it is not that addictive, and it is only poisonous in massive doses. As with a lot of things we enjoy, everything in moderation is key. Public Health England published a report that e-cigarettes are less harmful than tobacco, 95% less harmful. Professor Hajek sees it as having a similar risk to caffeine, whilst also stating: “My reading of the evidence is that smokers who switch to vaping remove almost all the risks smoking poses to their health.”

Nicoccino is positioned with a subtle nod towards café culture, which is smart, in light of the respected health sector thought leadership mentioned above. Nicoccino are ‘tinkering with perception’, as Rory Sutherland likes to say, which is a bold move. Maybe in a year or so from now it will reap dividends, with the enjoying of a strip of Nicoccino whilst siting at your favourite people-watching spot being an accepted social norm.

From a branding and marketing point of view, I imagine it would be a great challenge to get stuck into. The lack of clear, universal legislation across the EU and the world beyond means it’s very hard for an NCP (Nicotine Containing Product) brand to establish a strong, consistent look and feel, and tone of voice.

I think I’ll buy my mates a fancy Nicoccino leather cardholder and a sachet of strips for Christmas, and present them at the pub on Boxing Day. We can sup a few beers by the fire, and stay out of the rumoured bleak winter we have in store. And I hopefully won’t end up looking like a lonely lemon.


New research is showing nicotine is not the monster many people think.



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