In the UK, in line with the Tobacco Advertising and Promotion Act 2002, tobacco products cannot be advertised in print, billboards, via direct mail outs or sponsorships (television advertising ceased in 1965). There are no such restrictions on the marketing of e-cigarettes. This page provides details of the current debate over e-cigarette advertising, particularly in relation to concerns that companies are marketing to youth, and provides some examples of e-cigarette adverts.
Research from the University of Stirling revealed that spending on e-cigarette promotion in the UK increased from £1.7m in 2010 to £13.1m in 2012. Furthermore, in the second half of 2013, a British American Tobacco subsidiary spent £3.6m in two months to promote the launch of its e-cigarette brand, Vype in the UK.
The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE) has expressed concern that without regulation of e-cigarettes, such devices may be “marketed in a way that may ultimately promote smoking.” Similar conerns were raised by recent research into the marketing of e-cigarettes in the UK, published by CRUK in 2013. The research highlighted the fact that e-cigarettes have been targeted at two distinct consumer groups to date:
- 1. The committed smoker,
- 2. Young social smoker or non-smoker.
A report by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in the United States (US) has found that “From 2011 to 2012, electronic cigarette use increased significantly among middle school (0.6% to 1.1%) and high school (1.5% to 2.8%) students…” While these percentages are relatively low, they account for nearly 2 million students in the US. E-cigarettes are increasingly being positioned as socially attractive and part of a rapidly growing trend and are being sold at exclusive events and popular venues e.g. parties and festivals. Therefore, many public health researchers and advocates agree that there is a need to regulate e-cigarettes, particularly the way in which they are marketed so that e-cigarettes do not appeal to young people and non-smokers.
- Television adverts
- Sports and cultural sponsorship
- Celebrity endorsement
- Social networking
- Online advertising
- Point of Sale displays
- Pricing strategies
- Product innovation
The following concerns, relating specifically to young people, have been raised (this list is not exhaustive):
- Glamorising use by using celebrity endorsement and promotion at glamorous events e.g. free handouts at New York Fashion Week
- Sexualising use in paid adverts
- Using social media such as Facebook and Twitter
- Earned media is also playing a role, with journalists discussing the promotion of e-cigarettes in magazines with a typically youth audience
Youth Marketing Strategies
E-cigarettes are being marketed in a way which emulates very successful tobacco advertising asserting an independent identity and a lifestyle choice, aligning oneself with celebrities, fashionable and youthful places and activities. Both independent e-cigarette companies and tobacco company e-cigarette subsidiaries have engaged in marketing activities that can be interpreted as appealing to youth even if the company line is that this is not its intention.
Independent e-cigarette companies (i.e. those which are not associated with tobacco companies) are careful “to distance their products from tobacco.”
The following marketing techniques have been used by independents. Evidence exists that each of these strategies has been successful with youth audiences in conventional cigarette promotion.
- Aesthetic appeal including attractiveness, coolness, colours and innovative packaging and flavour variations;
- Research on tobacco clearly indicates the appeal of such characteristics and flavourings to youth audiences.
- The Internet and social media tools are used to display attractive price promotions, competitions and group discount vouchers;
- Price is an important determinant in purchasing behaviour, particularly amongst young people, and the internet presents a direct route of communication to such audiences.
- Celebrity endorsements and celebrity-inspired styling;
- This strategy is a marketing technique, and also a public relations activity to promote trust in a product.
- Sports sponsorship;
- Research found that corporate sponsorship of sports teams leads children to absorb the corporate marketing messages and influence purchasing decisions.
- Examples of such marketing: Sky Cig made its first club-specific sponsorship deal in October 2013 (see below), after having had an advertising presence within football for two seasons. In June 2013, London venue The O2 signed a multi-year partnership deal with E-Lites, allowing guests to use and buy the products in and around the arena.
Professor Gerard Hastings, a co-author of the 2013 CRUK report on the marketing of e-cigarettes said: “The fact that multinational tobacco companies are moving in on this market is of particular concern. From past experience, we know they are deceitful, determined and deeply detrimental to public health.”
Recent research shows that in the case of the smokeless tobacco product snus, the tobacco industry talks about harm reduction, but internal documents reveal that smokeless tobacco was seen as an opportunity to target smokers that were considering quitting, smokers in smokefree public places and a health conscious generation no longer interested in starting smoking.
The marketing of e-cigarette brands by tobacco companies is in its infancy in comparison to the marketing of independent e-cigarette companies, nevertheless there have been a number of recent marketing activities from tobacco company subsidiaries. Tobacco companies’ message is somewhat different to that of the independents and the nicotine products of the pharmaceutical industry, with the tobacco industry framing independent's as not understand smokers’ needs and the pharmaceutical industry as offering unappealing products.
Tobacco companies are marketing their e-cigarettes as a dual use product so that smokers can access nicotine inside social venues. Tobacco companies do not necessarily advocate stopping smoking and using e-cigarettes instead. E-cigarettes are promoted as a socially acceptable option rather than a smoking alternative altogether.
British American Tobacco
- The new product is a similar weight and size to a tobacco cigarette, has a soft-tip filter and features an LED light which glows a soft red when in use. This example, demonstrates how BAT have used their existing knowledge and expertise in the smoking market and applied it to a new product and market.
As part of its £3.6m campaign to promote Vype, CN Creative:
- Emphasised characteristics such as freedom, sociability and fun
- Employed social media strategies in addition to print media adverts
- Used attractive young people in Vype branding cars to tour the UK’s cities to promote the e-cigarette
- Opened what was called the first social venue centred entirely around e-cigarettes: the Vype Social night club in Shoreditch, a young trendy area of London. Trying to get on board the vape lounge craze and using the tagline “Sociability Reborn”, the bar was promoted heavily using social media, actively stirring discussion and therefore publicity. However, the club was closed soon after it was opened in November 2013. In hindsight, it was just a month-long promo for BAT's e-cigarette. The 'Vype Social' pages on the internet now link to the Govype page and a dedicated Facebook page.
Vype Ad Appears in Children’s Game
BAT received criticism in October 2013 when an advert for Vype appeared in an online children’s game (click on fifth image in the gallery below to enlarge).
Blu was an independent US e-cigarette company that was bought out by US tobacco company Lorillard in 2010. Lorillard spent £19m promoting Blu. In the third quarter of 2013, Blu owned 49% of the US e-cigarette market share.  
An analysis of the marketing methods of companies selling smokeless products observed 879 adverts for Blu e-cigarettes in print and on television between 1 June 2012 and August 31 2012. Some claim that current marketing techniques for e-cigarettes mimic the successful advertising of cigarettes in a by-gone era.
Amongst other techniques, Lorillard has used the following strategies, all of which are known to appeal to youth audiences, as shown above.
- Celebrity endorsement - Actress Jenny McCarthy is the female face of Blu and actor Stephen Dorff is the male face of the brand. In one ad, Dorff says: "It's time we take our freedom back," before going on to say that Blu e-cigarettes can be smoked "at a basketball game ... in a bar with your friends ... virtually anywhere." Inhaling with swagger, he adds: "Come on, guys, rise from the ashes."
- Sports endorsement
- Innovative packaging - Innovative packs alert users when they come within fifty feet of another user. Both packs start vibrating and flashing a blue light. As an alternative to this users can modify their preferences and share social media details with the other users.
- No reason to quit - Blu does not position e-cigarettes as a way to stop smoking. This ad from the US - Why quit? Switch to Blu - makes it clear the company just wants people to use e-cigarettes. Spring 2014, Blu also used the slogan Smoking Redefined which associates the e-cigarette to the real thing and with being cool.
The inaugural television advert for Sky Cig was first broadcast on Tuesday 15 January 2012 (this was before Lorillard took over the UK e-cigarette brand in October 2013 - by then already successful). Showing young people performing youthful activities, partying, mountain biking, relaxing in bed, and travelling. The voice-over emphases that “Life is about now” ...."Life is only asking you one thing..." – to which the answer is: "Who are you sharing it with?" Throughout the advert, in sync with the questions asked, the camera zooms-in repeatedly on the Sky Cig branded package of e-cigarettes carried by, or placed next to, all the young people depicted in the ad. As if in response to the questions posed, the voiceover ends the advert simply stating: “Sky Cig”. After a complaint to the Advertising Standards Agency (ASA), Sky Cig the advert was not permitted to run again in its original form, as is explained at the page on E-cigarettes: Marketing Rules.
The advert is reminiscent of the Philip Morris Be Marlboro cigarette adverts which have been aired in 50 countries around the world. The Be Marlboro campaign has been widely criticised for its youth appeal and, after running for over a year, has been banned by authorities in Germany.
Skycig Deal with Football Team
In October 2013, just when Skicig was taken over by Lorillard, the company signed a deal with the Wolverhampton Wanderers. Under first club-specific sponsorship deal, fans of the football club will be allowed to buy and use e-cigarettes within certain areas of the Molineux Stadium. Smoking has been banned within English football stadiums since 2007 when the ban on smoking in enclosed public places and workplaces came into effect; however, regulation around the use of e-cigarettes in public places is less clear cut.
Other TobaccoTactics Resources
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