Looking at special
edition cigarette packs is like taking an exciting
journey of discovery around the world. These special packs are not only
fascinating examples of traditional and modern packaging design but are also an
inimitable reflection of the cultures and mentalities of the countries where
they are marketed.
Like a micro-cosmos,
the special packs are very effective in reflecting
the character of a particular country, what moves its people and how tobacco
companies absorb these pictures and thoughts to transform them into a small
work of art on cartonboard.
Not only are
manifold differences in conception, choice of motif and
design of pack identifiable, but it is also possible to draw conclusions about
technological development, the professionalism of the designer and the demands
on quality of the tobacco manufacturer.
provenance and year of production of an edition, it is
possible to identify priorities of a political system or how the structure of
the society influenced the development of the pack.
Take Albania in the
1960s and 1970s for example. At that time, Albania
was considered the most isolated country in the world and a stronghold of
Stalinism. The special editions then were made exclusively to commemorate
important political events, for example the founding of a labour party, trade
union congresses, the anniversary of a revolution and national holidays.
Similar themes are
to be found across eastern Europe, in Russia and also
in China. However, western countries have also used cigarette packs as an
effective political propaganda tool. During World War II the Americans, for
example, printed dozens of rallying slogans on the front of hinge-lid packs of
the ‘Regent’ brand.
The design and
printing quality of all these ‘socialistic’ packs are
typical of the cheap style of the time. An overwhelming number of them were
produced either in drab colours that have no recognisable design concept if
judged by today’s criteria or carried dominant emblems, such as the Red Star,
for example. Either way, the papers and board were of similarly poor quality as
the letterpress printing that was commonly used.
Because of the
political and economic situation in those countries at
the time – the tobacco industry was usually run as a state monopoly and
marketing played no role in manufacture – smokers had no choice and had to
accept the products that the state concerns put on the market.
Tourism as a topic
However, times have
changed. Because of the increasing restrictions on
tobacco, the cigarette pack has grown in significance as an advertising medium
– in all countries of the world. With specially designed, expensively produced
editions used to support product marketing, manufacturers are attempting to
bind consumers to one brand and win new smokers for a particular cigarette.
The theme of tourism
has been discovered as an important topic for
special editions. Whether Argentina, Brazil, Australia or Cambodia – the great
attractions of these and other countries are presented in detail on special
These packs are
intended as an incentive to travel and also as a
souvenir. In the West, colourful high gloss photos are placed on the front of
packs. In the People’s Republic of China and many countries of the former
Soviet Union, statues, monuments, historical buildings or great natural sights
Cigarette packs had,
however, long been discovered as an advertising
medium for the industry in general. They were used, for example, as specially
designed packs to attract visitors at trade fairs.
Whether at the
second international Asian trade fair in the then Persian
capital of Teheran in 1969, at the World Exhibition in Louisiana in 1984 or at
the Milan Fair in 1990, there were no differences in concept or quality amongst
countries and cultures.
As far as cultural
history is concerned, the picture is completely
different. In China, where mythology plays a much more important role in
society than in the ‘enlightened’ West, many special series of packs carrying
images of Buddhist and Taoist deities exist which have no western counterparts.
The packs are very colourful and the very nature of the naturalistic themes
contrast sharply with the abstract packaging designs that are popular in Europe
and the US.
On the whole, it
appears that the themes for special editions in the
West are limited to two main areas. The first is sport and leisure. Special
editions are to be found in almost all larger countries for events such as
formula one racing, football tournaments, car rallies or the Olympic Games.
The other large area
revolves around lifestyle and pleasure and combines
the standard themes of sun, beach and sea with attractive, happy, fit young
people. Whether the Belmont brand from Chile or Lord from Germany, in a holiday
and leisure-oriented consumer society, this concept of a modern, light
lifestyle still seems to work but leaves little room for originality.
Against declining sales
The courage to
experiment seems to be much more widespread in the
regions of eastern Asia anyway. Cigarette packaging is used for educational
purposes and for the dissemination of knowledge in miniature form. Excellent
examples of classical painting and calligraphy, poems, scenes from famous
novels, battle scenes or chess games can be found on packs.
In Japan, pictograms
have been used to teach children traffic sense, and
environmental concerns and the correct behaviour in the case of fire have been
graphically displayed on packs, too. It must be admitted that using a cigarette
pack to inform and educate the public is an original idea. The latest example
of this known to the author is a series of packs in Brazil called Amigo.
Portraits of children who have disappeared are placed on the front to the packs
with a message urging the public to help in the search.
In Germany, other
methods of pack concept are being employed to halt the
fall in sales. The series, whether from Marlboro or Camel, have great appeal
through modern design and clarity of presentation. The well thought through
designs are produced using state-of-the-art technology, as the many
computer-animated designs for Gauloise in France demonstrate, but unfortunately
lots of colourful pictures only serve as eye-catchers, but have no deeper
Attempts are only
made to attract attention superficially, to the
detriment of originality. Exceptions do exist, for example, the Wild Lights
series from West which is eye-catching and very effective because of the
original design. When the pack lid is lifted, the jaws of the depicted wild
As far as the motif
is concerned, the pack has been purposely turned on
its head. But the different approach to product design and marketing is not
only a consequence of differing mentalities between East and West, but also a question
of empirical knowledge from and with consumers. In many eastern European and
Asian countries, the move into a free market economy is relatively recent.
Decades of state indoctrination means marketing is still in its infancy.
In many areas it is
the blunt conveyance of information or values that
dominate with little sign of subtlety.
advertising, for example, quite common in the West, is hardly
to be found in Asian countries – this type of humour does not appeal to many
More creativity required
Despite all the
criticism of the lack of creativity in the West, one has
to admit that legal requirements often pose an insurmountable barrier. If
Vietnamese and Russian promotional packs carry unlicensed stills from films
such as the blockbuster Titanic, in order to profit from the hype, this could
qualify as an original idea, but would simply not be possible in the West.
In addition, the
high standards of quality of the cigarettes themselves
and the product liability law restrict what is feasible in packaging design. In
Laos, some cigarettes are not only made manually in backyards, but also sealed
in small, practical plastic bags. In a high wage country like Germany on the
other hand, with established packaging technologies, the idea of doing
something similar is simply unthinkable. For a variety of reasons, certain
standards have been established and in the end, the smoker gains with regard to
quality and financially.
Positive examples of
unusual special editions are nevertheless to be
found in many countries. If one looks at cross-marketing, one can find many
original promotional packs as early as the 1970s, from Italy, Hungary or then
Czechoslovakia. The only thing that connects the printed product promotion to
the tobacco industry is actually nothing more than the pack as a commercial
medium for advertising. Whether one is talking about fashion goods, beer, cars
or the opening of a department store, there is nothing that could not find its
place on a cigarette pack. The courage to experiment could result in a
Promotions for Ajax
floor cleaner or for 100 000 sold cars were put on
packs in Germany in 1955, but for the Goggomobile.
special editions of cigarette packs as interactive
marketing tools have been created. In Argentina, coupons to visit a music event
are sealed in cigarette packs. In Brazil consumers are encouraged to cut out
photos of television actors from the pack to send in to the broadcasting
station as tokens. And in Colombia packs have been coupled with competitions to
boost sales of the flagging President brand.
There are no common
denominators that can be used to define all special
editions from countries around the world. However, it is true to say that the
market for special editions will continue to grow in importance and that the
technological disadvantages of some developing nations will have disappeared in
a matter of years.
If the experience
gained in free market economy is coupled with solid
marketing knowledge then the lead the large tobacco concerns have over domestic
tobacco industries now will soon dwindle to insignificance.
So in future much
more creativity will be required to keep cigarette
packs attractive. And those who take the individual needs of the smoker into
consideration, creating designs that are based on sound inter-cultural
knowledge will be successful. It will be interesting to see the results.
and a fascinating selection of pack examples and
design inspirations of special editions around the world can be found in the
book Little treasures – Kleine Schätze.