Plain Packaging : A Slippery Slope

Author:Mr Jonathan Agmon
Profession:Soroker Agmon Nordman

Impressions from the Brand Protection and Intellectual Property Roundtable, Singapore, February 2018. Participants (from left to right): Prof Bryan Mercurio, Mr Seth Heys, Mr Jonathan Agmon, Ms Tish L. Berard, Ms Francine Tan and Mr Samir Dixit.

In 2009, Tropicana decided to change the iconic design of its orange juice boxes to modernise its image, hoping that it would appeal better to consumers. But little did they expect that the repackaging would see sales plummet by 20 percent in just over two months, with a loss of US$33 million in sales value. Consumers had rejected and heavily criticised the new design, saying they were confused by the new look which made the brand seem cheap. Following this failure, the company reverted to its original packaging.

Tropicana's lesson highlights the important role that packaging in brands play to help consumers make decisions according to price and quality, said Samir Dixit, Managing Director (Asia-Pacific) of Brand Finance. Once removed, in a move which is called "plain packaging", consumers' decisions are compromised, leading to far-reaching consequences for businesses and industries, he added, in a forum on plain packaging threats to intellectual property (IP), organised by the International Trademark Association (INTA) in February 2018 in Singapore. "Packaging has a very important role to play. It simplifies the choice for consumers. When we introduce plain packaging, we're taking away the fundamental right of making and simplifying a choice for consumers," added Dixit.

Landmark ruling Plain packaging removes all company branding, which includes brand colours, logos, and trademarks, and replaces them with a standardised product packaging. It has already been introduced for tobacco products in Australia, France, United Kingdom and Ireland, in a bid to discourage people from smoking, citing health concerns. But according to brand owners, academics and lawyers at the forum, plain packaging could have wider implications. In fact, the World Trade Organization's (WTO) upcoming decision on Australia's plain packaging law on tobacco could have major repercussions, said Bryan Mercurio, professor from the Chinese University of Hong Kong. "I think this case will be a green light for other sectors, if allowed without the evidence of success," he said, adding there was little to no evidence that plain packaging has actually helped reduce the rate of smoking in Australia. "The evidence is very equivocal as to...

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