Hip, affluent, digitally aware young people: latest target for tobacco companies

This fascinating research covering 23 countries describes clever new strategies employed by some tobacco companies to target modern, digitally literate young people. Associating different brands with different lifestyle images is typical marketing practice, but now companies can link tobacco with the young ‘hip’ digital age. Even digitally aware adults may still fail to fully appreciate the strength of social media and innovative technologies for young people. An example is use of the iconic digital power switch, already common on personal computers, t-shirts, underwear, tattoos and condoms. British American Tobacco (BAT) have incorporated the concept with their ‘Kent Switch’ brand. This encourages users to click the switch symbol as they open the packet, symbolically turning the pack on. Smokers can then ‘click to switch’ by crushing a small ball in filters, converting the cigarettes to menthol flavour. BAT have many other digitally themed packs and have invested heavily in marketing and development. Such packs may become, ‘extensions of the self’ in the way that smartphones represent not only usable items but an intrinsic part of a user’s identity’.

Phillip Morris have a similar pack in their iconic Marlboro range. ‘Marlboro Beyond’ is strongly linked to smartphones by pack size, symbols, camera icon and a lookalike iPod play button. In the Swiss version a customer code links the smoker with Marlboro’s website. The L&M Orange and Blue packs link with the ‘House of Friends’, a possible association with social networking, where young smokers can ‘win prizes for spending good times with your friends’ including videogames and a digital camera. In a related article, researchers claim that health warnings on tobacco packaging are much more powerful a tool than some authorities previously believed.

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