Wednesday 9 September 2009

Stylish minimalism

Today sees the release of The Beatles' back catalogue on remastered CD. For what it's worth, my favourite Beatles album is The Beatles, AKA The White Album. Not only do I think it's the best Beatles album, I happen to think it's the best album by anyone. 

There's a long-running argument amongst fans of the Fabs over how The White Album would have been as a single-record set. Personally, I think it's more than fine as a double album, but to get in the spirit of things, here's how my track-listing would have looked if it was distilled down to a 45 minute LP (and, yes, it does include Revolution 9):

1. Everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey
2. Dear Prudence
3. I'm so tired
4. While my guitar gently weeps
5. I will
6. Julia
7. Martha my dear
8. Happiness is a warm gun

9. Back in the USSR
10. Sexy Sadie
11. Revolution 1
12. Cry baby cry
13. Revolution 9
14. Savoy Truffle
15. Blackbird
16. Long, long, long

But let's leave the music aside for a moment and consider the sleeve. Rolling Stone described the all-white cover as "stylish minimalism." Its designer, Richard Hamilton, said that:

"Pop Art should be popular, transient, expendable, low-cost, mass-produced, young, witty, sexy, gimmicky, glamorous, and big business."

David Quantick, Revolution: The making of the Beatles' White Album, p. 163

It will be interesting to see how the album sells this time around because, if the anti-smoking groups are correct, the plain cover should be a major deterrent to consumers, especially the young (PDF).

The research showed that smokers would associate smoking from a plain pack as being less stylish, less sociable and less mature than smoking cigarettes from packs with full branding, and also that the product would be less satisfying and of lower quality tobacco.

Indeed, plain packaging would create negative imagery. Instead of being a badge product to be proudly displayed, the ugly pack would be a source of embarrassment.

Ugly? That's a bit strong. The plain pack above (from ASH promotional material) actually looks quite smart and attractive. But the anti-smoking groups say that people will definitely be put off from buying something with a plain white cover. I wonder.

The White Album went platinum 19 times and is the tenth biggest selling album of all time. Just think what it could have done without that "ugly" sleeve. 


Unknown said...

Like your writing Chris as always, but isn't this comparison a little spurious?

Wasn't the aesthetic appeal of the White Album (which is decent, but Revolver is better - just so you know ;) was that it's white out cover was in contrast to everything else at the time (who all had elaborate designs and art ... well, except maybe This is Spinal Tap).

The whole plain packaging deal is that *everything* is the same plain white so you won't get that 'whoa, this is something cool and different' effect the first time you got when you saw the white album. Which is part of why it was showered with design praise. Doesn't work if everything else is white also.

Don't see the connection myself, sorry.

Christopher Snowdon said...

You have a point, Black, and this was a rather light-hearted post. I still don't think the plain packs are "ugly", though, and I think they could be seen by many - especially - teenagers as being quite cool.

The other possible unintended consequence of this policy might be that smokers buy personalised cigarette cases (as they do a great deal in Thailand where the gruesome photos are on the FRONT of the packs). This hides all warnings and offers smokers a chance to express their individuality - not want the anti-smokers want at all.

Unknown said...

Of course, light hearted is allowed - encouraged even!

Interesting thought about unintended consequences though. But do you really think the anti-smokers would be that bothered by personalised cases as long as they weren't industry branded (e.g. they featured pics of James Dean, Minnie Mouse, or whatever else)?

Personally I don't know about Thailand and I'm assuming in that case the covers are not industry branding, but I couldn't see any of the UK governments regulating for covering a plain packaged products with non-tobacco industry imagery. Could you? On what grounds could you possibly argue for it?

Unknown said...

I have some cigarette cases. They are not personalised or anything like that - just plain cases. I started buying them when they first put all the crap on the packets so I only ever have a pack long enough to 'decant' the cigs to the case.

It is quite amusing that non smokers have commented on how nice it looks rather than the horrible packs. One anti smoker actually said that if they smoked, they would have a case like that.

Given the branding and the crap on the packs these days, I suspect it would be a great time to invest in cig case sales.

Put the stuff in plain packages, put the packs behind counters. I still know exactly what I need to buy when I lean over the counter and whisper my brand to the assistant and then decant to the cig case. I expect lots of others think the same and the cig cases make it look more glamorous to the young person. How much more money do we need to waste on these stupid ideas?

O, and perhaps I could 'save the planet' at the same time by decanting the pack there and then and leaving the empty pack on the counter for them to recycle...(at double speed, just in case some child is traumatised by the sight of it and takes up smoking a few years later as a consequence)....just a thought ;-)

Anonymous said...

@black: i disagree, by making all packages white you just get the whoa effect no matter what brand you buy. chris' refutation of the people quoted still stands.

@bearwitch: my experience exactly. i wonder if they would outlaw 'brand' cigarette cases... -needless to say without the death propaganda all over ;)