A few weeks ago, an TV spot from Cancer Research entitled "Plain Packaging" broke in the UK. The spot is intended to generate support and lobbying for a move to pack tobacco products in plain packaging, and shows clips from a group discussion amongst 7-10 year-olds, discussing what attracts them to cigarette packs. The children mention that the packs are "pretty", "funky" or "cool", or that "red is my favourite colour."
I haven't got an axe to grind about smoking. I don't smoke myself and any sensible measures to help people give up smoking should be praised, knowing what we do now. However, there is something unpleasantly manipulative about this film. How do the parents feel about their children being "used" in this way? Surely, if the packets really are so compelling and attractive, the children in this film are already hooked. The comment from one boy that the symbol on one pack "reminds me of the Tintin books" will give some over-zealous official the excuse to kill off two un-PC elements with one stone.
The criticism aimed at much market research that it deliberately hot-houses and draws people's attention to things they would not notice in real life couldn't be more apt than in this case. On the list of communications vying for a 7-10 year old's attention, cigarettes packets aren't exactly competing with the latest McDonald's Happy Meal Toy or upgrade to Doodle Jump.
Contrast all this with Peter Ashley's new book, "The Cigarette Papers". There's no preaching here, for or against, simply a beautifully illustrated commentary on the golden age of cigarette packaging. There was a time when cigarettes were as woven into the tapestry of everyday life as Smartphones are today. And, to prove that there's nothing new under the sun, this book is packed with examples of product placement, loyalty schemes, brand extensions, celebrity endorsements, sponsorships, added value, branded apps and games - except that no-one referred to them as such in those days.
Just make sure you leave it on the top shelf - you don't want your children seeing it.