A huge chunk of the corporate world will be taking a very sharp intake of breath right now as it is announced that Australia is to become the first country to seek to strip private legal companies of their trademarks.
The Australian government has today effectively passed a bill that will mean from December next year, all cigarettes will be sold in olive green packs, with no trademark brand logos permitted on any packaging. Companies will be able to print their name and the cigarette brand in small, prescribed font on the packets together with stark health warning messages and pictures, which will cover 75% of the front of the pack and 90% of the back.
Tobacco companies have vowed to fight the new legislation in court. And rightly so. Can you imagine Coca Cola allowing the shiny red can and swirly brand name to be removed and replaced by an olive green can, with warnings of addiction and early death plastered all over it, without challenge? Or Cadbury giving up its purple bars of loveliness, or Tanqueray its distinctive green bottles without a fight? No I don’t think so. They would rightly argue that their branding is about product differentiation and brand share, that they have invested millions in their trademarks and will challenge any body – including governments – that seek to take that away.
And whilst once the fast food, confectionery and drinks industry stood as far away from the tobacco industry as they possibly could (with fingers crossed muttering quietly “please not us next, please not us next”). “The times they are a changin”.
Taxation, the original weapon of choice of Governments seeking to discourage tobacco consumption, returns increasingly to the alcohol industry, and is now the insidious stick with which to beat the food industry (think Danish fat tax).
Nor will it stop at just tax. Where health lobby groups have succeeded with tobacco – so they will follow for alcohol, fast food, chocolate and every other indulgence we enjoy. We already see that great old anti-smoking chestnut- the cost to the NHS -appearing with increasing frequency … “the cost of obesity to NHS” or the “£3bn cost of alocohol to NHS every year” .
So too have the scare tactics – the headlines that get ever more hysterical … the “obesity pandemic“… “Fatty foods Addictive like Cocaine“… “Binge drinking on the rise” (never mind that according to the governments own statistics, alcohol consumption is actually falling).
We are already see signs of anti-tobacco-style attacks on food distribution ( health lobby groups arguing for a ban on siting of “fast food outlets” near educational facilities) and advertising (Diane Abbott’s criticism of Coca Cola and McDonalds sponsoring the Olympic Games) etc.
So sure as night follows day it’s only a matter of time before it will become “widely accepted” that many of our pleasures and indulgences are in fact wicked evil addictive substances and that we are not responsible consumers but the” hapless and the exploited” that need protecting for our own sakes.
It’s a tiny step from there to the decision that it’s the branding of the fizzy drink, bottle of booze, bar of chocolate, or burger that’s the problem – and stripping away the trademark, packaging design and strap line – is not just desirable but necessary.
And whereas now we have politicians stating “If this legislation stops one young (Australian) from picking up a shiny, coloured packet and prevents them becoming addicted to cigarettes then in my view it will have been worthwhile,” we we soon hear them saying this instead…
“If this legislation stops one young (Australian) from picking up a shiny, red tin of Coca Cola and prevents them becoming addicted to fizzy drinks then in my view it will have been worthwhile” .
And the consequences of travelling blindly down this health evangelist’s path will be brands competing on price, not quality, not health; a duller, less imaginative and exciting world; counterfeiting criminal gangs having a field day; and we the people accepting that we know nothing about anything and that “Government knows best”. When we all have Soviet style cola rationed to us by our “benign” governments we can all praise them and thank them for saving us from ourselves.
I am sure that we all ate more vegetables in the Middle Ages -and probably in Soviet Russia too- they are just not ages I want to return to, nor regimes I wish to live under. There is an alternative. We can say NO MORE. This is a line in the that has been crossed…Companies have rights. People’s pensions and life-savings are tied up in these companies and their brands. Trademarks can’t be dismissed on a whim. Intellectual Property Rights can’t be casually cast aside. And perhaps most importantly …We are adults – not children. And we whilst we say yes to informed choice, education, and help to those who want it…we say no state control.
THIS is a battle that we cannot allow tobacco to lose.