Can you make it look… even worse?

It’s an unusual design brief – to make the product as unappealing as possible. But that’s exactly what proposed designs for cigarette packaging in Australia hope to achieve, using a grim combination of photography, graphic design and type

It’s an unusual design brief – to make the product as unappealing as possible. But that’s exactly what proposed designs for cigarette packaging in Australia hope to achieve, using a grim combination of photography, graphic design and type…

In the UK using graphic photographs of smoking-related diseases on cigarette packaging has been a method of dissuasion in place since 2008. But the proposals for the Australian packaging, which could become law by the end of the year, go further in that many of the pictures are more horrific (referring to a host of other diseases perhaps less associated with smoking), even showing images of infant suffering and death.

Furthermore, the packaging is set to be stripped of any branding, associative colouring or typography whatsoever. The proposed packs will instead use a single colour – a drab olive green (Pantone 448C) alongside a bold yellow ‘warning’ label – with the brand name written out in Lucida Sans, which was designed in 1985 by Charles Bigelow and Kris Holmes.

According to, research carried out by Sydney-based GfK Blue Moon concluded that “dark colours were perceived as more harmful, and dark brown was the least appealing, carrying connotations of uncleanliness. A lighter-brown color was rejected as it could be perceived by consumers as gold. An olive tint prevents the brown from looking like chocolate, which also has positive associations.”

The result is indeed a feat of negative association – suffering, pain and death – rammed home via a nausea-inducing colourway and expressionless typography. In a way, the designers have achieved something quite remarkable: a product that, on face value at least, you really wouldn’t want to buy. For those considering taking up smoking that may be enough to stop them. The counter argument is, of course, that for millions of already addicted smokers, it’s more than a simple matter of choice.

According to The Guardian, the cigarette manufacturers have claimed that the unprecendented move will mark the end for their established trademarks and logos, with the government effectively acquiring these pieces of brand property without offering compensation. The Australian government, however, has said it was “incongruous” that companies were compensated for being required to act in the best interests of public health.

But going back to the design approach, we wondered what it was about Lucida Sans that made it seem applicable here? Is it enough of a deterrent? Could the adoption of a particular typeface across all brands mean that the face becomes, in Australia at least, the default lettering for cigarettes? Will other companies and brands that use the typeface be tempted to switch from it if the association becomes too dominant?

In the design industry, Comic Sans is perhaps the most well-known typographic bête noire that springs to mind – yet in this context, the name probably sits a little uneasily with the brevity of the project. But what other typefaces might be suitable for this unusual and difficult job?


Cancer Research UK has issued an appeal for signatures to its petition calling for the removal of all branding from tobacco packaging via this compelling TV spot from AMV/BBDO. It is based on recent research which sheds light on the new packaging techniques cigarette manufacturers are developing, with the aim of luring young people towards smoking. More on the story on – the ad is below. Thanks to @purplesime for the tweet.

  • AJS

    Oh! Right on lunchtime as well!

  • Mark Sinclair

    @Yeah, felt bad just tweeting it too.. apologies!

  • Feeling like for cigarette right now!

  • You can eat anything with ComicSans oin its packaging. The best soup in Spain uses ComicSans, but if you used it on what is supossed to be cigarrets pack it won’t be credible. Lucida is ok, looks like Lucky Strike.

  • Can’t wait for the TV ads.

  • Joe

    The whole approach is wrongheaded. The more extreme you make the threats of death and disease, the more divorced the health issues get from most people’s actual experience of smoking. This is a problem because it makes it easy for smokers, especially young ones, to dismiss these extreme health warnings as propagandist hot air. Also, making the packaging this ugly in an attempt to turn smokers into even greater social pariahs than they already are won’t work either as the ‘outsider’ mentality is already too strong amongst teen smokers. You can’t just bully people into submission like this, and shouldn’t try to. It insults their intelligence, and is offensive to everyone. Who, smoker or non smoker, wants to see a diseased foot staring at them from a pub table, or rotten gums?

  • Liam

    I see a raise in shiny cigarette case sales.

  • I’m glad I gave up years ago. My decision, however, wasn’t made via graphics, it wasn’t made at a point in time where rotting appendages where part of the box.
    The packaging is indeed ugly as sin with any level of romanticism or logo loyalty removed. The Australian government has gone to great lengths promoting the negative effects of smoking. Banning it from sporting events, reducing in-store advertising/presence etc. However, nicotine addiction is a strong beast, bureaucrats know this. They also know that a large portion of revenue comes their way via tobacco tax.
    I’d be interested to see if these directions effect the numbers smoking (taking up smoking) in Australia.

    PS: I don’t think the general public will associate Lucida Sans with smoking et al because to buy a packet of cigarettes in the future will mean a game of denial, mental and visual.

  • Like Joe says above, I think the idea of making smokers even more of a social pariah than they already are isn’t necessarily the best move. We all know smoking is bad, harmful and unpopular, but still people do it. Time and time again, from national government policy to primary school discipline, whenever you treat humans like idiots they tend to act like idiots. We need to counter that ‘outsider’ mentality.

    I don’t doubt this Aussie method will have an effect, but it’s not really conveying any new message. Of course for us interested in branding this has one beneficial side effect – with no new message in play, the only thing to change is the removal of branding. Monitoring the effect this has will be a good way for us to quantify the effect branding has had on the industry – it’ll provide a good ‘before and after’ case study. But the message is nothing new, and I think we might need a new message.

    I had a bit of a play with this last year:

    It led me to the conclusion that perhaps the most effective method of dissuasion might not be to offend, shock or shame, but simply to irritate. And the key to doing that may well lie in the grinning face of a smug millionaire…

  • Tony Enoch

    Oh dear, what ever happened to proper adult debate without blatant propaganda. Were the children looking at packs with the new pictorial health warnings on them? Surely not. Imagery as shown above is already commonplace in parts of Asia. They are anything but pretty or happy. But when these images are introduced children will be exposed to imagery that is 18 rated and would not be acceptable before the TV watershed. I as a parent, would very much like to protect them from images like these. Treat adults as adults and don’t keep punishing them for their habits and educate children not to smoke, it’s the simpliest way. Now let’s think what a nice bottle of Rioja will look like with a diseased liver on the label. The future is going to get ugly- be careful what you wish for.

  • James Hobson

    I’m assuming Lucida Sans has been chosen as it gets the message across with real clarity and punch rather than it being seen as ‘ugly’ or a typographic ‘bete noire’.

  • badnews

    Always found this marketing to be moronic, if you’re trying to scare someone away from something then showing the worst possible thing that can happen isn’t ever going to work.

    The imagery here is at the level of “gore”, it stops being real and almost becomes a caricature that I could never possibly associate with.

    Instead of a completely destroyed tramps mouth (Which would never happen to a regular person because they’d surely visit a dentist way sooner) show just a regular person with below average smoking damaged teeth.

  • Greg S

    Coming from the perspective of a nurse who has worked on Neuro, Cardiology, Oncology, and Critical Care units…. i think this sort of packaging does a great job of showing people the realities of smoking and its real consequences. It’s easy to “know” what can eventually happen to you from smoking cigarettes. It’s quite another thing to experience it, or to see it with your own eyes. These images aren’t out-of-touch propaganda, they’re not pictures of rare or uncommon consequences of smoking. For me this packaging is just putting into the public domain what is already taking place everyday in hospitals all over the world. If it’s difficult for people to believe, I think that says more about human beings’ capacity to ignore, and less about the realities of cigarette smoking.

  • Sophie Wagstaffe

    It seems perhaps the greatest irony of the Cancer Research UK Campaign is that in order to make their message relevant they actively require children to sit with, handle and discuss cigarette packaging – children of an age who would most certainly be refused purchase of cigarettes in shops! Given that their message is children will take up smoking when exposed to “enticing” packaging – surely they have just create a collection of children who will definitely become smokers from the packaging they have been asked to discuss??!

    Of course not – the reality is that in balance to the discussion shown in the film they would have been educated on the negative effects of smoking to provide a suitable forum for the discussion to have taken place. This is not considered or shown and therefore undermining the purpose of campaign some what.

    Plain packaging with such graphic health messages seems like a huge leap and strong bias against the tobacco industry, which is already subject to huge tax and restrictive advertising bans.

    Assume other products deemed harmful to health prevalent within the media and society’s conscious, such as obesity, are also being considered – look out McDonald’s and Coca Cola!!!

  • A

    As someone who has never smoked and who is in good fitness and healthy, I find it very curious that as we enter an age where one of the biggest threats to our survival is overpopulation, governments seem compelled for us to live till we’re all well past 100. Now I am not for a second shedding a tear for big tobacco, just,… I am an adult. I like to drink, and do other things that are potentially dangerous for my body. Surely this is my choice. What is the point in living whiter than white lives if they are as dull as dishwater. Where does it end, will this method move onto alcohol next and then bad food. And then what,`???
    As humans we do all sorts of things, despite the negative impact they may have on us, drink, drugs, bad food, driving recklessly, Cycling with no helmet, unprotected sex, extreme sports, why because after all’s said and done we think its a risk worth taking. Surely we should be given facts and then allowed to make that choice

  • Mustafa

    I think people calling this sensationalist are missing the point.

    These photographs are so unappealing that the sheer glimpse of even a section of the packet or the photograph is enough to make a smoker give a second thought about putting the rolled up piece of paper filled with the brown stuff near their lips. It’s like trying to eat a delicious chocolate bar whose wrapper has a photo of diarrhea across it – as ridiculous as that might sound. You may be compelled to eat the whole thing quicker to rid yourself of the packet – or as some have suggested above, actually remove all the contents and put them into a more appealing package to eat later on.

    But the impact I think, will be more long-term. What teenager would want to have such disgusting [but real] photographs in their possession? As youth become even more design conscious and savvy – the loss of minimalist and slick branding will turn them off also. These are the first generation smokers, whose appeal comes not just from seeing others smoke the cigarette, but in the ownership and especially as they get older, in the brand they commit to purchasing as a reflection of status, whether culturally or professionally.

    I think this is a very blunt approach – but given the toxic and lethal nature of this legalised drug – it is the best way to ween our populations off the nasty stuff.

  • If they want designers and creatives to stop smoking they should use Comic Sans

  • Wrong approach.

  • Decimal

    @Mustafa “What teenager would want to have such disgusting [but real] photographs in their possession?”
    The same ones that show shock clips like 2girls1cup to their mates.

    I work as a graphic designer in the NHS. Most of my colleagues can’t understand the mentality of smokers at all. I think a similar lack of understanding shows in this packaging. Smoking has an outsider appeal because it’s fatalist/rebellious. Most messages from the state will reinforce that, especially with this lack of subtlety.

    Putting on a stop smoking phone number might have better results. Many smokers try to quit alone but groups have better success rates. Many adults decide to quit for their partners or grandkids. Maybe the closest we can get to a ‘one size fits all’ solution for all ages is vanity – staining, wrinkles, being less attractive.

  • Just ban the things.

  • James



    Stop insulting your constituents. Either a) let them smoke, or b) don’t let them smoke.

    Stop paying for this pointless and disgusting propaganda.

    There isn’t a human being on the planet that doesn’t know that smoking might kill them; all this does is serve to remind people that their government is happy to take millions in tax off of the back of your habit (and in the UK’s case, fund state pensions with it), but feel the need to belittle and disgust you at the same time. It’s either so wrong that it should be illegal, or it’s a choice; this weird middle ground is just patronising.

    Free-will or no free-will, save the lectures for a pamphlet.

  • James

    @Mustafa “These photographs are so unappealing that the sheer glimpse of even a section of the packet or the photograph is enough to make a smoker give a second thought about putting the rolled up piece of paper filled with the brown stuff near their lips.”

    That’s the intention, but it’s not the reality. Thats the problem with this approach (which has never, and will never work, irrelevant of context), it completely bypasses anything we know about behavioural psychology and just jumps directly to an obvious but flawed non-solution.

    Showing people images that are completely disconnected from their present situation, extreme marginal cases that they have no familiarity with will only result in smokers being put off the packaging, not the cigarettes. Like FRANK adverts that are full of misinformation; all they do is further distance themselves from people that know better – it damages the credibility of the message.

    A coward agency led by a misguided stakeholder. That’s all we’re seeing here.

  • Chris

    Howabout pictures of car crash victims in car brochures? Or plane crash victims in airports? Or shrivelled up livers on booze packaging? Or clogged arteries on McDonalds boxes. Or brain tumors on iPhone cases. Or severed limbs on power tool packs. My point is – where does it end? If smokers don’t know by now that it’s bad for them I doubt grim images will sway them any more than outrageous price-hikes. As a non-smoker I question the effectiveness and thought=process behind this approach.

  • Rosie Milton

    *gags with sandwich in her mouth* TG I’m not a smoker…

  • I think it’s really naïve to think this *wouldn’t* have an effect on cigarette sales.

    When so much effort is put into making packaging and branding attractive, we know the value that has on appealing to customers (or their subconscious). It seems clear to me that doing the reverse would play some role in reducing demand.

    The right or wrong of it is perhaps more debatable, but I happen to think smoking is pointless and expensive, so I’m all for it!

  • EJ

    *Chokes and slobbers on greasy G.M. McChicken doorstop with trans-fat hen juices blobbing on to the cellophane.. TG i’m not so self-righteous

  • eileen


  • Cheesy

    Cig adverts?

    For about 5 years I used to be a social smoker (with a drink) and then I gave up. I’ve not smoked in over a decade and not once when I see a cig do I ever want one. Seeing these adverts they don’t work they repulse you but enough to give up an addiction I think not.

    The problem with this is you need something tangible to a living person and death is not. Injury and disease can be. Or in the case of the TV advert with your child and invisible smoke the yes that might work.

    The advertising agency have missed out on one important point, most people are very selfish when it comes to there own pleasure and pursuit of.

    Smoking is an addiction, so to get people to not smoke you would have to cure the addiction or in this case make it socially unacceptable.
    A person needs to want to be cured of their addiction not told you need to be cured.

  • Messing with the packaging doesn’t stop the actual smoking of cigarettes looking so darned cool in films, photos of rock stars and the lips of fashionistas etc. Maybe making the actual fags look like an old man’s todger would solve the problem?

    In the meantime I’m off to design some beautiful cigarette cases..

  • Andrew Kelly

    @ “EJ” – Wow. That was really uncalled for. I take it you’re a smoker, with raw nerves feeling well and truly touched?

  • “There isn’t a human being on the planet that doesn’t know that smoking might kill them; all this does is serve to remind people that their government is happy to take millions in tax off of the back of your habit”

    This was the exact thought that led to my suggestion posted above. I really can’t see how perpetuating the outsider mentality will work.

    To be most effective, design must strive for honesty, but this Aussie approach overlooks one of the big factors – that far from being some fringe issue, smoking is a massive source of tax revenue. So the state can paint smokers as the bogeyman all day long, but while ever it continues to happily lap up the resultant taxes it’s being openly hypocritical to an extent that undermines their message.

    So why not make that the issue? No belittling, no lecturing – just focus on the very real thing that should really annoy smokers – the tax – in the hope that it might have some impact. And what’s more annoying than the thought of your hard earned cash perpetuating the smug grin of David Cameron?

    Having said all that, I accept I come at this as none smoker and a wooly left winger, so I could be way off. As a tory smoker I may well see it differently – perhaps as a source of pride? I don’t know.