With e-cig sales in the US this year expected to reach $1 billion and projected annual doubling in industry size, electronic cigarettes are looking like more than the fad some opponents were hoping it was. That means the peripheral support structures traditional to any product industry should be in full swing soon. This includes quality control, litigation, compliance, and — you guessed it — advertising.
Because of the weird leisure product kind of space electronic cigarettes currently sit in (i.e. they aren’t tobacco products), they are allowed to be advertised and displayed in ways conventional cigarettes haven’t been since the 70’s. Conventional cigarette advertising has been hamstringed for quite some time. Television ads haven’t been allowed since 1971. But that changed when Blu eCigs and Njoy both aired ads on TV. The response was mixed.
Many individuals who were not aware of electronic cigarettes or very adamant smoking haters considered it a bad omen. Smoking has been off the airways since 71 and now its back because of some quibbling product loophole, they say. But so far, e-cigs seem to have freedom to advertise as they see fit. At a federal level, they aren’t even illegal to sell to minors — though few retailers or company owners would make those sales and minors appear more interested in “real” smoking.
Still, e-cigs seem to be here to stay. All three U.S. Big Tobacco companies (Reynolds, Philip Morris, and Lorillard) have now joined the industry. It seems reasonable to expect that the advertising juggernaut that was Big Tobacco is getting limbered up for a campaign unlike anything we’ve seen yet. According to an article at Thisismoney, British American Tobacco, the world’s second-biggest cigarette maker, is on the look out for an ad agency to launch its own electronic cigarette brand.
Electronic cigarettes will likely open other avenues of advertising as well. Many websites won’t allow smoking ads, but they will allow e-cig ads — and if they don’t, they may do so soon in order to benefit from the ad budgets of the smoking giants.
This does raise a fairly serious question about the intention of advertising restrictions on tobacco products. If the intention of ad bans is to prevent brand building, e-cig ads from companies that spend most of there times selling conventional cigarette might be banned, while those from companies dedicated to e-cigs wouldn’t be. This could be a harry territory.
We would have to decide if, say, Philip Morris was allowed to produce an ad that helped its brand which might lead to more cigarette sales even if the ad didn’t advertise traditional cigarettes. This might seem like reasonable ban, but this is eerily similar to those arguing that e-cigs should be banned or heavily resistricted because they might help cigarette sales indirectly.
It seems more likely that e-cig ads could be banned outright simply to prevent companies like Philip Morris and Lorillard from getting their brand in front of impressionable eyes and to satisfy family and public health groups.
Still, the land grab for advertising accounts among ad agencies has probably already started.