Seminal INTA Brand Restrictions Study: A View from Gen Zers and Millennials

Published: June 23, 2021

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INTA has released its Brand Restrictions Study: A View from Gen Zers and Millennials, clearly illustrating 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.

One key finding from the comprehensive global study, released June 22, shows that brand restrictions may not have the intended long-term public policy outcome of changing consumer behavior. Among other significant findings: these consumer groups tend to trust brands, use branding elements as quality indicators, misjudge reasons for brand restrictions, worry about safety and legitimacy when products are brand-restricted, and would prefer to make their own decisions and health choices.

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 (for example, mandated size and content of messaging).

The study 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’s 2020‒2021 Brand Restrictions Committee and 2020‒2021 Research Advisory Council.

Caroline Chicoine (Husch Blackwell, USA), chair of the Research Advisory Council and a member of the Brand Restrictions Committee, said these markets were selected based on multiple factors, including the level of economic development and the presence or potential of brand restriction legislation.

“The Council carefully considered the different generations that could be studied and decided to focus the research on Gen Zers and millennials as they are the largest generations globally, and it would be important for brand owners, lawmakers, and the media to understand how these consumers relate to brands and what their attitudes are toward brand restriction legislation,” Ms. Chicoine explained.

There has been a notable increase in recent years in regulations and legislation around the world to restrict brand use, including plain and standardized packaging. Following Australia’s passage of its Tobacco Plain Packaging Act 2001, several countries implemented similar restrictions on tobacco products, and more governments are considering such proposals.

Discussing the significance of this study, Simon Brown (South Africa, Adams & Adams), chair of INTA’s Brand Restrictions Committee, noted: “A trend that began with tobacco-related products is gradually rearing its ugly head in other products including alcohol, infant formula, medical devices, pharmaceutical drugs, and sugary drinks in various countries globally. This raises serious concerns for brand legal teams, the global trademark community, and consumers at large. We are delighted that the study helps to unpack this complex topic.”

The research, which began in early 2020, had three phases: a landscaping phase, a qualitative phase, and a quantitative phase comprised of a 20-minute online survey reaching 5,000 Gen Zers and millennials. The study comprises 11 reports—a global report and 10 country-specific reports that dive into each market’s individual findings. The global report’s executive summary, the infographics, and the video are publicly available. INTA members have exclusive access to all 11 reports.

The top six key findings of the study are shared below.

Brands play a vital role in consumers’ lives. Seven in 10 consumers surveyed trust brands, compared to four in 10 who trust governments. Trust in brands, however, varies across markets, with consumers in developing markets trusting brands more.

Visual branding elements provide consumers with key quality indicators. Visual branding elements such as brand logos, colors, and designs provide crucial information to consumers—they help them choose the right product by conveying a sense of quality, they make shopping easy, and they provide cues that a product can be trusted. For many of those surveyed, the amount and location of nutritional/ingredient information currently displayed on product packaging—on the back—is sufficient, suggesting no need for significant change to packaging.

Consumers often misjudge the reasons behind brand restrictions. Consumer awareness of brand restriction terms is fairly high. Despite familiarity with brand restriction terms (for example, trademark or plain packaging), the concept is not well understood. Many survey respondents misinterpret the rationale for introducing brand restriction legislation, with close to half thinking that brands introduce plain packaging to save costs.

Brand restrictions may not have the intended long-term public policy outcome of changing consumer behavior. Only one in three say that brand restrictions would help them make healthier choices for themselves and their family. Moreover, a significant proportion of those surveyed—nearly half—say that plain packaging is too extreme.

Consumer support for brand restrictions is low, and brand restrictions cause them to worry. Brand restrictions cause consumers to worry about the safety and legitimacy of products, with one in three survey respondents worrying that products would be fake/counterfeit. Additionally, nine in 10 consumers also anticipate brand restriction legislation to have negative economic impacts.

Consumers feel they are most responsible for making healthy choices, not brands or their government.

With brand restrictions, many of the consumers surveyed feel civil liberties are at stake, and that brand restrictions would take away their freedom of choice. Six in 10 say people should be taught how to make healthier choices rather than have the right to choose taken away from them.

Brand restrictions are considered the least effective strategy to encourage people to make healthier choices. Most consumers feel more information should be available on how to make healthy choices, such as through education campaigns and more nutritional information on packaging. These strategies are considered to be more effective than brand restrictions on product packaging in encouraging consumers to make healthier choices. In Chile, where brand restrictions exist and have been in place the longest among the studied markets, fewer than four in 10 say brand restrictions would be effective, compared to just under five in 10 who say the same globally. The low perceived effectiveness of brand restrictions in Chile is a strong case against implementing them.

INTA’s Position

INTA has opposed brand restriction legislation 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 a 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.”

To learn more about INTA’s activities on this topic, contact José Luis Londoño, staff liaison of the Brand Restrictions Committee.

Become a Research Supporter

Showcase your organization as a thought leader. INTA is developing various research initiatives, including an anticounterfeiting benchmarking study. This benchmarking study will include a survey of our corporate members about their brand protection programs. If you are interested in learning more about our sponsorship opportunities, please contact Renee Garrahan, senior associate, Research.

Although every effort has been made to verify the accuracy of this article, readers are urged to check independently on matters of specific concern or interest. 

© 2021 International Trademark Association