The International Trademark Association (INTA) released this week its Brand Restrictions Study: A View from Gen Zers and Millennials. INTA commissioned this comprehensive global study to show how the world’s largest generations view brand restrictions legislation and regulations and how their purchasing behavior could be affected by these limitations or bans on packaging design elements.
Among the major findings, the new study illustrates that brand restrictions may not have the long-term intended public policy outcome of changing consumer behavior. The study’s release comes at a time when more countries around the world have implemented or are exploring such restrictions.
The term “brand restrictions” refers to legislation and regulations to restrict brand use and reduces the use of trademarks on packaging or even bans their use altogether. This includes plain packaging, highly standardized packaging, bans on the use of brands and branding elements, and health warnings (e.g., mandated size and content of messaging).
Following the passage of Australia’s Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2001, several countries have implemented similar restrictions on tobacco products and more governments around the world are considering such proposals. Other products are also being affected, including alcohol, infant formula, medical devices, pharmaceutical drugs, and sugary drinks, for example.
For years, INTA has advocated against these restrictions, emphasizing that they threaten consumer choice and safety, economic growth, intellectual property rights, and brand identity.
“These restrictions arise from policymakers’ real concerns about addressing health and welfare issues. However, such measures are being imposed without adequate due diligence or clear evidence to show that the intended results can be achieved,” said INTA CEO Etienne Sanz de Acedo. “These restrictions on brands are reckless. They undermine consumer trust in brands and will cause enormous damage to businesses and consumers.”
To provide a global perspective on the topic, the Brand Restrictions Study: A View from Gen Zers and Millennials covers the responses of 5,000 consumers between 18 and 39 years of age in 10 markets: Brazil, Chile, Colombia, India, Mexico, Singapore, South Africa, South Korea, Thailand, and the United Kingdom. Edelman Data & Intelligence, an independent research, analytics, and data consultancy, conducted the research in partnership with INTA.
“This significant attitudinal study will help lawmakers, along with brand owners, the media, and the public-at-large, understand how the world’s largest consumer groups relate to brands and view brand restriction legislation,” Mr. Sanz de Acedo said.
Supporting the finding that brand restrictions may not have the long-term intended public policy outcome of changing consumer behavior, only one in three survey respondents said such measures would help them make healthier choices for themselves and their families. Consumers rely on visual branding elements—such as brand logos, colors, and designs—and nutrition/ingredient labels for crucial information that conveys quality and trust and makes purchasing decisions easier.
Notably, awareness of brand restrictions terms is fairly high among the survey respondents. However, they often misjudge the reasons behind brand restrictions—close to half think that plain packaging is being introduced by brands to save costs.
A key finding from the study is that brands are more trusted than governments. Seven in 10 survey respondents trust brands globally, compared to four in 10 who trust governments. Nearly half said that plain packaging is too extreme. As a result, Mr. Sanz de Acedo said, “These measures may further deteriorate trust in government.”
Noting that “civil liberties are at stake,” the Gen Zers and millennials surveyed would prefer to make their own decisions and healthy choices, based on learnings from education campaigns and more nutritional information on packaging. Six in 10 say “people should be taught how to make healthier choices rather than have the right to choose taken away from them.” And they would like government to keep them informed of any considerations to implement brand restrictions and be prepared to reverse them if found ineffective.
In addition, at a time when counterfeiting continues to proliferate worldwide, the study shows that about one-third of respondents worry that products may be counterfeit due to brand restrictions. Counterfeit goods can pose health and safety risks, among other dangers.
INTA has voiced its opposition to brand restrictions for many years, including filing more than 20 submissions and comments on draft legislation at a national level and two amicus briefs at the World Trade Organization in the case arising from Australia’s Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2001. In addition, the Association formed dedicated Brand Restrictions Committee, and INTA’s Board of Directors adopted resolutions that formalize the Association’s position on the issue.
The most recent resolution, from November 2019, states that “trademarks are intangible personal property rights (positive rights), not merely the right to exclude others from using confusingly similar marks (negative rights), and should be protected to the same extent and degree as all other forms of personal private property, both by law and treaty.”
Noted Mr. Sanz de Acedo: “We recognize that many brand restrictions arise from well-founded concerns. But governments are overlooking trademark rights and their value for the economy, jobs, and growth, not to mention tax revenues, notwithstanding the national laws and international treaties containing clear provisions against imposing restrictions on trademarks.”
“It is also important to emphasize that brands play a vital role in consumers’ lives,” he continued. “This study clearly shows that consumer support for brand restrictions is low and that brand restrictions are a source of concern. Policy makers need to hear this.”
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