Selling electronic cigarettes is complicated. For one, there has yet to be regulation over many issues that currently constrict traditional tobacco manufacturers, such as age limits and warning labels. Plus, these devices are relatively new to the market, so their actual benefits or harm have yet to be determined.
But now, brands Njoy, Vuse, and Blu are ploughing ahead with new advertising campaigns to drive sales, with each using uniquely different strategies.
Njoy, which bills itself as the number one independent manufacturer of e-cigarettes, is relying on humor with its "Friends Don't Let Friends Smoke" campaign. The concept shows two male friends helping one another out in memorable moments, like preventing a bar fight and helping to move a couch. The effort's launch is timed to coincide with New Year's resolution seekers trying to quit traditional cigarettes and comprises TV, radio, outdoor and digital media, both in the U.S. and internationally.
Njoy executives plan to spend $30 million on U.S. marketing, and another $50 on international advertising in 2014.
Meanwhile, Blu Cigs, manufactured by tobacco giant Lorillard, positions itself as the cool e-cigarette. Chasing coolness may anger anti-smoking advocates, but Blu Cigs executives believe this is the most effective tactic to attract new users to this category. "You need to make this product acceptable to consumers and trendy in order for it to be a viable alternative to cigarettes," said Lorillard's Murray Kessler at a recent investor event.
To this end, Blu's advertising relies heavily on celebrity endorsers Stephen Dorff and Jenny McCarthy and is placed on television and in popular magazines, including U.S. Weekly and Rolling Stone. The company also sponsors IndyCar races and music festivals, such as the Governors Ball and Sasquatch. Company executives report they spent $40 million on marketing in 2013, and expect to increase this budget in 2014.
Reynolds American, for its part, is taking the cautious approach with its Vuse e-cigarette device. The product was first only available in Colorado, which served as a test market while the company learned more about the category. This month, Vuse is expanding beyond Colorado to several other states and will achieve national distribution by the first half of 2014.
Essentially, the company is treating Vuse like a tobacco product, says Reynolds American's Stephanie Cordisco. "When we're buying print media, when we're buying TV space, we apply the same guidelines we do in the tobacco category. [This means] 85% of their audience or viewership has to be 18 years or older."
Company executives also aren't allowing the product to be sold online and every Vuse purchase mandates that the buyer show age verification. "And this [will be in effect] even in states that don't even require it," says Cordisco. Reynolds American is using a tiered rollout for this device.
Still, the company is aggressively marketing the product to consumers. "What you'll see that's different from our competitors is we're not communicating benefits like no ash or no odor. What we're communicating is what they're missing in the category: which is finally an e-cigarette that delivers on the promise that it makes," she says.
Now it's up to consumers to decide which of these three brands uses the most effective tactic.