Marlboro Bright Leaf: The Pack is Important

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Image 1. Marlboro Bright Leaf pack purchased December 2012

In response to the economic down turn, consumers of cigarettes have been down trading to cheaper non-premium brands. This has led to increased product and packaging innovations both in the mid-priced and economy segments as the big four tobacco companies fight for market share.
Marlboro is an example of a premium brand, priced at the higher end of the cigarette market, it has been the world’s number one cigarette brand since 1972. However, in the UK, Marlboro is not the most popular brand, ranked at fifth place in terms of sales in 2011.12

Philip Morris International (PMI), the tobacco company behind the Marlboro brand, owned 8.8% of the UK cigarette market share in 2011. In comparison to Imperial Tobacco who owned 43.8% and Japan Tobacco International (JTI) who owned 37.1%, PMI has a much smaller brand portfolio in the UK despite owning 7 of the top 15 global cigarette brands.2

Launching a New Brand

Prior to 2009, PMI did not offer a non-premium brand in the UK market. In August 2009, PMI announced that they were launching a new brand into the UK market, ‘Marlboro Bright Leaf’.3 The brand, created specifically for the UK market, retails at 8% cheaper than other Marlboro products and it therefore fits into the mid-priced cigarette segment competing with other brands such as JTI’s Benson and Hedges and Imperial Tobacco’s Lambert & Butler (the top selling brand in the UK at the time of writing).

According to Marketing Week, Zoe Smith, Marlboro marketing manager for the UK and Ireland said at the time:

“It is an exciting new product which has been specifically designed to address the taste dimensions of the British adult smoker. From its distinctive taste to its tactile pack design, Marlboro Bright Leaf brings the Marlboro brand to the mid-range tobacco market for the first time here in the UK.”4

From the time of launch until January 2013, the Marlboro Bright Leaf packet was charcoal grey in colour, embossed with curved thin black lines. The Marlboro name and chevron on the front of the pack were raised and the BL representing Bright Leaf was flat and smooth, differentiating it from the feel of the rest of the packet (Image 1). Most striking was the opening mechanism of the pack which has been likened to that of a zippo lighter. The top of the packet opens at the side revealing a metallic orangey-red coloured inner layer of the packet with the slogan “Style meets flavour, Marlboro Bright Leaf, designed to be different”. The inner foil is perforated and tears off easily in one piece. Closing the pack is similar to the snap shut functioning of a zippo lighter.

A Lighter Packet Brand Variant

In April 2010, an announcement featured in the retail publication ‘’Talking Retail’’ stated that Marlboro Bright Leaf were extending their brand to include a ‘Platinum’ variant (Image 2). Marketing manager Smith said “The packs are a light platinum colour and maintain the tactile finish of Marlboro Bright Leaf together with the innovative ‘lighter style pack’ which opens at the side with a distinctive click.”

Image 2. Marlboro Bright Leaf Platinum5

The Platinum variant has 7mg tar, 0.7mg of nicotine and 7mg of Carbon Monoxide in comparison to 10mg tar, 1.0mg nicotine and 9mg carbon monoxide in the original Marlboro Bright Leaf. Along with the lighter colour and lighter feel of the platinum pack, this information may lead consumers to believe that the platinum cigarettes are less harmful.678 All cigarettes are equally damaging to health.910

Importance of Packaging for New Brands

In the UK, the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002, which came into full effect in 2005, put an end to conventional forms of tobacco advertising in the UK. There are no TV or cinema ads, no print or billboard ads, no sports endorsement, no non-tobacco products brandished with cigarette brands and following the implementation of the Point of Display Ban, which was introduced in stores over 3000 square feet in April 2012 with smaller stores expected to comply by 2015, the UK tobacco market is now known in marketing speak as a ‘dark market’, i.e. there are limited opportunities for marketing. This makes packaging a very important marketing tool to the tobacco industry.

The importance of packaging was highlighted by Simon Massey, the managing director of branding agency The Gild, (who work with Rizla, an Imperial Tobacco owned tobacco rolling paper brand) at the launch of Marlboro Bright Leaf:

“Despite the regulation restricting launch activity, the branding and packaging is strong…Add to this the cheaper price point and I expect Marlboro Bright Leaf will gain market share, at least among Londoners and urbanites.”3

Moving Away From Marlboro

Image 3. Bright Leaf limited edition packaging January 2013

According to ‘’Talking Retail’’ in January 2013, Marlboro Bright Leaf was exceeding expectations with its intended target group of legal age to 29 year old smokers. To ensure its long-term growth PMI decided to rebrand Marlboro Bright Leaf as ‘Bright Leaf’.

According to their marketing director, this change is “designed to clearly differentiate it from the iconic international Marlboro range.”11

The brand change was introduced in January 2013, occurring in two stages. The first stage involved three sides of the packet being kept the same as the current packaging with a ripped section on the front of the pack to reveal the new packaging underneath (Image3).

The second phase showed the new pack in full but the cellophane wrapping will be used to reassure current Marlboro Bright Leaf smokers with the message “New Pack. Same Taste” and the pack itself says “Bright Leaf….from the makers of Marlboro”.

It is not clear why PMI would wish to disassociate Marlboro from Bright Leaf. However, this may have been the plan from its launch. Marlboro is a premium brand. By creating a cheaper brand variant in the mid-priced sector, the Marlboro brand’s premium status is diluted. However, due to the limited opportunities to market a new brand in the UK owing to advertising regulations, the Marlboro name may have been used as a hook for those down trading to cheaper brands in the sub-premium, mid-priced segment.12

Why is this Important?

With the level of advertising restriction in the UK, packaging is key to the success of a new brand. One of the possible consequences of plain packaging, if it is introduced into the UK market, would be to deter the launch of any new cigarette brands as it would be difficult to market a brand without packaging. The creation of this new brand would have been unlikely to succeed were plain packaging already in place.

Indeed, at the Bright Leaf launch in 2009, in response to the proposed Point of Sale advertising ban which would remove all packaging from public view, Jens Behrendt, managing director of PMI said, “How can you launch a new product when you can’t show it?”

Low-Priced Segment

Having a premium and a mid-priced offering, PMI still lacked an economy brand in the UK. In April 2011 PMI launched Chesterfield cigarettes, available in red, blue and menthol variants.1314 The launch was supported by extensive advertising in trade magazines to get retailers to stock the brand and via hostess selling activity in pubs and clubs across major cities in the UK in order to raise its profile.

Image 4. Chesterfield introduced to UK market 15
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  2. abPhilip Morris International Our brands, accessed January 2013
  3. abG. Charles, Marlboro unveils mid-priced cigarette brand Bright Leaf, 28 August 2009, accessed January 2013
  4. R. Baker, Marlboro unveils mid-priced cigarette brand ‘Bright Leaf’, 28 August 2009, Accessed January 2013
  5. Talking Retail, Marlboro launches Bright Leaf Platinum, 27 April 2010, Accessed January 2013
  6. A. Ford, C. Moodie, G. Hastings. The role of packaging for consumer products: Understanding the move towards ‘plain’ tobacco packaging. Addiction Research and Theory, 2012, 20(4):339-47
  7. D. Hammond, M. Dockrell, D. Arnott, A. Lee & A. McNeill. The impact of cigarette pack design on perceptions of risk among UK adults and youth: Evidence in support of plain packaging regulations. European Journal of Public Health, 2009, 19, 631-7
  8. The Research Business, Qualitative research into the UK potential for Marlboro Medium, 15 January 1996, Accessed January 2013
  9. US Department of Health and Human Services, Risks associated with smoking cigarettes with low machine-measured yields of tar and nicotine. US Department of Health and Human Services, 2001, Bethesda, MD
  10. S. Hecht, S. Murphy, S. Carmella et al. Similar uptake of lung carcinogens by smokers of regular, light and ultralight cigarettes. Cancer Epidemiology Biomarkers & Prevention, 2005, 14:693-8
  11. Talking Retail, New pack design for Bright Leaf cigarette range, 3 January 2013, Accessed January 2013
  12. Shane MacGuill, ‘From the Makers of Marlboro’ – Remember the phrase as PMI Spins Off Bright Leaf, Euromonitor, 15 Jan 2013
  13. Talking Retail, Philip Morris launches Chesterfield cigarettes, 13 April 2011, Accessed January 2013
  14. Wholesale News, Chesterfield fills a gap in portfolio, May 2011
  15. J. Novac. Chesterfield introduces superkings at superlow price, blog, 2 October 2012, Accessed January 2013