In a world first, Australia has legislated for plain packaging on cigarettes from December 2012, sparking a global re-think on cigarette branding. In response to this and as part of a global challenge on behalf of the cigarette companies, Japan Tobacco International (JTI) that owns the Camel and Silk Cut brands, took out full-page ads in the national broadsheets this weekend throwing them into the center of the debate. It will no doubt be a long and hard fought battle – but despite valid arguments on both sides of the debate, in the end the tobacco industry will lose, just as they always have with every other noose tightening exercise.
The tobacco industry isn’t the only one facing ever-increasing regulation. Again starting in Australia, under Julia Gillard’s Labor rule the TGA (Therapeutic Goods Administration) have published a consultation paper that includes proposals to make active ingredients more prominent on the labels of prescription, non-prescription and complementary medicines.
And by more prominent they mean “equal prominence” with the brand name.
Now I understand the regulatory arguments with cigarettes – they seem entirely reasonable to me.
But healthcare brands are surely a force for good not a force for evil. For many pharmaceutical companies the development of OTC consumer brands once their drugs come off patent represents an important revenue stream for them. They’re currently suffering from the competitive pressures represented by the generics in every part of their business and this represents another turn of the screw.
It’s easy to look at the developed world’s spending on drugs – especially where an ageing demographic puts additional strains on healthcare budgets – and conclude it’s too high. But if we want the investment in research to push back the boundaries and continue the healthcare miracle that’s unfolded over the last century or so, something has to give. And if consumers buying their OTC self-selection brands rather than the generics provides some of this research capital then it should be allowed to continue to do just that.
Brands know they need to innovate. This might be gallenic format innovation, ergonomic innovation driven by better structural packaging design, or simply much better graphic communication with consumers – indeed none of the things that the generics will want to invest in.
As a brand designer “equal prominence” is a nightmare and should this become legislation you’d have to seriously question the commercial viability of consumer healthcare brands in the Australian market. And as the cigarette-branding example proves what starts in Australia can soon spreads elsewhere around the globe.