The broadcast networks have gone through long periods of refusing to accept ads for hard alcohol and condoms. Now, in similar fashion, they seem unwilling to air them for the controversial electronic cigarettes. Some cable networks might hope they’ll continue with any rejections – all the more money for them.
Of course, the issue could become moot as FDA regulations might curtail marketing mightily in the not-too-distant future. Or, Congress could take action.
In December, the New York Times quoted the CMO of e-cigarette marketer NJOY, Andrew Beaver, saying two cable groups (Viacom and Discovery) had accepted ads for a $12 million to $14 million campaign. So had stations in many large markets. But, he indicated the Big Four networks had resisted grabbing some of the dollars.
E-cigarettes deliver nicotine, but allegedly avoid some of the dangers of traditional cigarette smoking. Sales are growing rapidly, offering cable networks and others a potentially new robust category to tap.
NJOY received a $20 million investment last year from a private equity fund (which also has an organic baby food company in its portfolio). Also in 2012, large tobacco company Lorillard, which markets the Newport brand, bought the Blu eCigs brand.
If broadcast networks take spots for Blu, it would appear to put them back in business with Lorillard for the first time since the U.S. government banned cigarette ads some 40-plus years ago. Blu has actor Stephen Dorff as a frontman and the Times reported the brand has run cable spots.
Broadcast networks may not want to enter the e-cigarette category fearing certain images might be perceived as sending the wrong message to young people and others. If seen with no sound, an NJOY ad could easily be perceived as a spot for a traditional cigarette. But if the promotion is around e-cigarettes helping quit smoking a la Nicorette, decisions could be different.
With considerable controversy, an e-cigarette TV spot for E-Lites – a brand also available in the U.S. -- was to debut in the United Kingdom over the weekend. Among e-cigarette brands, one pitch is the products can allow for smoking in areas where cigarette smoking is banned and don’t offer dangerous second-hand smoke.
The E-Lites ad features a father going outside to smoke and he misses his baby’s first steps -- and the kid breaking out in dance. He returns wondering if he missed anything.
“We believe E-Lites has reinvented smoking to be healthier, more socially accepted and more cost effective than ever before and the TV ad is a great way to communicate that message,” said head of marketing Trevor Field in a statement.
Cigarette ads have been prohibited in the U.K. since 1965. The door was opened for e-cigarette spots as Clearcast, the U.K. body funded by broadcasters that approves ads, offered up a policy. Bottom line is spots can run so long as there is “nothing … that clearly refers to smoking.” The E-Lites spot leaves implications that the father is going outside for a smoke with a shot of his shirt pocket, presumably holding a pack of cigarettes.
So far, e-cigarette marketers have far more latitude in the U.S. than in the U.K. Whether that will continue may be determined by Washington.