Earlier this year the UK government decided to ban tobacco advertisements. The impending ad ban precipitated a puff of self congratulatory farewells from the fat old ad men who had grown rich peddling ill health. My own brand, Silk Cut, had some torturous gag about a piece of purple silk looking like a fat lady singing – as shittily unfunny as the decades of bad puns, as tedious as the worlds worst mime artist.
The government also slapped gigantic warnings on the packaging of tobacco products. And with this big black san serif font they hoped to neutralise the hypnotic black arts of marketing.
A while before, Silk Cut themselves had done something much more off putting than threats of imminent death – a clueless rebranding including soft graduated fills and swirling logos like the offspring of low-cal chocolate and sanitary towels. My hideous physical dependance on nicotine was worse than the hideous physical appearance.
On the day that the last batch of posters were papered over or torn down, and the shelves of newsagents restocked something remarkable appeared. Something that made 20 years of terrible punning and cod surrealism (almost) worthwhile:
First, the Silk Cut logo had reverted to its former deep and regal purple. Second, the new government health warning was printed on the lower portion of the packet. The size of the warning meant that the logo would have to move. The proportions of the box left nowhere to go but higher up. The logo is carefully and tidily centred equidistant to the top and sides of the box. But against this standard Quark Xpress graphic design is something uncomfortable and unnatural – the flip-top lid slices right through the logo. Right in the heart of the badge, a gaping hole opens up. Its dark and deviant, a kind of self mutilation, like Ritchie Manic carving 4 REAL into his arm.
20 years of smug, selfish, boring advertising has suddenly become one of the neatest, most beautiful, subtle and troubling pieces of 3D design since that guy was arrested for slicing the head off Margaret Thatchers statue. Its packaging deign as cynically ruthless as Damien Hirsts chainsaw, and as clever and nimble as the surgeons scalpel which will one day slice open my chest open in an attempt to save my life. It’s graphic design that Turbo B from Snap could legitimately call “as serious as cancer”.
First Published in Contemporary.