A Buyer's Guide To E-Cigarette TV Ads

Marketing of electronic cigarettes (e-cigs for short) continues to generate immense interest and controversy. Tobacco companies, which own e-cig brands and haven’t been allowed to advertise on TV for decades, are returning to the air.

Lorillard’s Blu brand, for example, has actress Jenny McCarthy starring in a spot. Meanwhile, e-Swisher – owned by a leading cigar manufacturer -- has a car in one of the NASCAR circuits, which TV cameras capture. Privately held NJOY may be the heaviest spender in the growing category, having run national ads on ESPN and local spots during the Super Bowl. Another brand, Fin, also ran TV spots recently.



How long will the e-cig advertising surge continue? There are suggestions the FDA could make a move to shut it down soon.

The controversy around e-cigs rose to another level this week with new Centers for Disease Control research showing students in grades 6 through 12 who have ever used the product more than doubled in a 2011-12 period to almost 7%. 

Some national networks and local stations don’t take any advertising having to do with cigarettes. But others have been making decisions about whether they will accept the e-cig spots.

For that group, the decision may boil down to whether one views the ads as promoting a product that could help consumers stop smoking or whether the spots are believed to glamorize and encourage smoking in some fashion. 

If a network views the products in the smoking cessation vein, a case could be made that taking ads for the products is similar to running them for Nicorette.

“Our company mission” is to make traditional cigarettes “obsolete,” said NJOY’s CMO, Drew Beaver.

“We’re not appealing at all to people who don’t currently smoke or use tobacco,” said Ed Denk, who oversees marketing for e-Swisher.

As the controversy continues, where can e-cig marketers air spots? What follows is a buyer’s guide that is by no means complete. Based on communications with networks and others, it asks the question whether a TV network or entity accepts the ads.

Big Four Broadcast Networks

ABC – No.

CBS – No policy formulated. (Network has been approached by a few marketers, but has not run any ads.)

Fox – No.

NBC – No.

(Univision has not run any of the ads, but it might. A representative writes that it evaluates all ads from all categories on a “case by case basis.”)

Cable networks

A&E Networks – No.

AMC Networks – Yes. (Ads must run after 10 p.m. and have aired.)

BET Networks – Yes. (But only in shows where at least 70% of the audience is “reasonably expected to be 18 years of age or older." Also, there are restrictions when the spots can air and BET conducts periodic post-placement audits, according to Viacom representative.)   

Discovery Communications – Would not release information. (NJOY executive Drew Beaver said his company approached Discovery, which offered to accept its ad with “significant creative restrictions.” Notably, spots could not show a person using the product, so NJOY took a pass.) 

ESPN – Yes. (Ads have run. Company has a policy that spots can only run between 12 a.m. and 5:59 a.m. Eastern time. That could mean they will air earlier in other time zones, but ESPN makes an effort to avoid that. Time period exceptions are made for NASCAR and World Series of Poker. Ads cannot run in “any selected league partner programming,” which presumably includes the likes of “Monday Night Football” and the NBA playoffs. Ads cannot run in programming ESPN believes has a notable audience concentration and appeal to those under 17 -- such as Little League and X Games.) 

Fox cable networks – No.

Game Show Network (GSN) – Yes. (Has run the ads with “appropriate time period and content requirements.”)

Hallmark Channel – No.

NBCUniversal cable networks – No.

Scripps Networks Interactive: No

Turner Broadcasting – Yes. (Ads have not run and the company has creative restrictions. A representative wrote in an email that Turner does "not accept advertisements for products that promote an appeal towards smoking. This would include any electronic cigarette advertisements which have been marketed in such a manner. Ads are reviewed on an ongoing case-by-case basis.”)

Viacom Media Networks – Yes and no. (Adult-oriented brands such as Comedy Central, TV Land and VH1 will air them after 8 p.m. MTV does not run them because a significant percentage of the audience is under 18 and, of course, Nickelodeon doesn’t.)

Weather Channel – No. (The network had accepted them, but reversed policy.)

WGN America – Yes.

Local Station Groups

Belo: No

CBS station group: NJOY marketer Drew Beaver says his company has received approval to run spots.

Gannett: No

NBCUniversal owned stations: No

Tribune: No. Company representative writes ads are "no longer" accepted.

Local Cable Spot Advertising

Comcast Spotlight: No

Cox Communications: No

NCC Media: No (An executive wrote that the matter is under consideration. NCC is owned by Comcast, Cox and Time Warner Cable and sells spot cable advertising nationally.)

This story has been updated to reflect the Tribune station group no longer taking the e-cigarette ads.

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