Farmer's Voice

Thirst for Simplicity and the Cigarette's Role in Consumers' Analogue Futures

The tobacco industry can often be regarded as somewhat immune from drivers impacting other FMCG industries but reading through the most recent of Euromonitor International's zeitgeist-baiting reports on key Global Consumer Trends I was struck by one tendency which chimes with a possible future for cigarette positioning - in developed markets at least. The report refers to the concept of the 'over-connected consumer', some of whom (in the words of journalist Lee Kynaston) are "seeking refuge in a decidedly more 'analogue' existence". But what links this trend for de-digitalisation to the evolution of the cigarette?

Continuity

While there have been refinements in the form of filter, blend and paper composition, at its essence as an object, the mass-marketed cigarette today is fundamentally equivalent to those which first rolled off Bonsack's machine in the late 19th century. The industry has innovated furiously around the edges but in an increasingly technological age, and particularly in the context of competition from electronic nicotine delivery devices, the combustible cigarette's continuity has come to be seen as a weakness. In online forums of e-cigarette users, traditional cigarettes tend to be referred to, with a mixture of pity and contempt, as 'analogues'.

To the extent that industry thoughts have turned to the increasing perceived incongruity of combustible cigarettes, one feels the bent has been to chase shadows. Capsule cigarettes, for example, while eminently successful in their own right are ultimately a poor substitute for the potentially endless consumer optionality offered by ruthless technological progress. Packaging innovation evoking technology, such as that employed by British American Tobacco on the Kent umbrella while, again, highly creditable by its own lights, in the longer run surely serves only as artifice emphasising the quotidian prosaicness of the artefact.

Embracing the analogue

However, another bearing can and should be considered by manufacturers: to embrace the analogue. In the medium to longer term, the decline of combustible volumes in developed markets and the cigarette's increasingly unstable position as a mass-market product will coincide with this trend for digital detoxification in these same markets.

There is no reason why a portion of those nicotine and tobacco consumers who suffer from so-called 'techno stress' even in areas of their lives which are enhanced greatly by technology will not feel similarly disillusioned with a nicotine delivery device that also delivers and demands information, and therefore digital noise. These consumers may well seek to consume less-perhaps even substantially less-but when they do, a cigarette proposition evocative of simpler times is likely to prove attractive.

The benefit (and difficulty, given the advance of packaging regulation) for the tobacco industry in an 'analogue strategy' is that it requires little by way of product innovation and is focused much more keenly on brand positioning. The recent trend to additive-free products is arguably a harbinger of a more full-blown 'analogue' phenomenon and indeed, Natural American Spirit (for the non - US rights of which Japan Tobacco recently paid US$5 billion) with its bucolic, nativist styling is a good example of the kind of brand parcel which could operate in this putative era of smokers' thirst for the halcyon. Von Eyck's St. Pauli brand emblazoned with the football club's logo and the phrase ' The Borough Blend' which taps into the anarchist, anti-authoritarian image of the team, is another.

Resurrection and repurposing

Mining the warehouse of redundant brand identities is also a possibility. For example, responding to a comparable trend for nostalgia, in 2013, the Russian brewery Ochakovo MPBK ZAO resurrected Dvoinoe Zolotoe (Double Gold) a well-known, fabled brand of the Soviet era. Similarly emotionally primed tobacco brands of days gone by in all regions (or even fictional ones which borrow the clothing) should be considered as potential offerings in the brave new/old analogue world.

Beyond brand, the industry may even consider whether this type of trend could engender demand for older cigarette formats such as non-filter. Euromonitor's consumer trends report mentions the recent publication of a book entitled "How To Be A Parisian Wherever You Are"; and what could suit one version of this aspiration more than consumption of the occasional, 'decidely analogue' unfiltered cigarette?

Download the Top 10 Global Consumer Trends report here. For further insight and analysis please contact Shane Mac Guill, Senior Analyst - Tobacco at Euromonitor International on shane.macguill@euromonitor.com