Just because you market E-cigs to kids, the government shuts you down? Debbie Downer!
Figured I'd drag out some old swag. The early marketing campaign of Juul who dominated the early E Cigarette business in the US, basically shut down today by the Federales. Phillip Morris bought a minority them a few years back for $13 billion. Ouch.
Just goes to show, you're better off staying in the Nitrous Oxide or airplane glue business if you want to connect with kids. Actually, beer ads aren't bad either.
PS. Or of course you can be one of Juul's main competitors Reynolds Amercian or Njoy, they're ok to keep selling. Ahhhhh
The Disturbing Focus Of Juul's Early Marketing Campaigns
A print Juul advertisement that ran in Vice Magazine in 2015 as part of the e-cigarette company'’s... [+] launch campaign, “Vaporized.”
A print Juul advertisement that ran in Vice Magazine in 2015 as part of the e-cigarette company'’s.
Juul Labs, the maker of the most popular U.S. e-cigarette, is growing meteorically—on track to generate an estimated $1 billion in sales this year, up more than 300% from a year ago. However, its products haven’t only gained traction among smokers trying to wean themselves off cigarettes. They are also a hit with teenagers.
What medical experts are calling a Juul-driven “youth nicotine epidemic” is gaining heightened attention from regulators like the Food and Drug Administration, which on Thursday said it is seeking a nationwide ban on menthol cigarettes and flavored cigars and will sharply restrict the sales of fruity-flavored nicotine vaping cartridges. Juul, likely aware of the impending FDA crackdown, announced on Tuesday that it stopped sales of its fruit-flavored nicotine pods in retail stores (though it will still sell them online) and is shutting down its Facebook and Instagram pages in the U.S.
While Juul acknowledges that some youth (below the age of 18 or 21, depending on the state) use its products, the company has been emphatic that in its three years on the market, the company has never marketed to underage consumers. But a physician and professor at Stanford University who studies tobacco advertising is crying foul. Dr. Robert Jackler, the cofounder of a group called Stanford Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising (SRITA), a Stanford University-affiliated program, says that Juul deleted the vast majority of its social media posts in several waves sometime before September this year, but Jackler and his group have maintained an archive of Juul’s deleted posts (much of which is available on SRITA’s site), including more than 2,500 tweets and 400 Facebook and Instagram posts, as well as material from Juul’s website, emails and print campaigns dating back to its launch in June 2015.
Jackler says the company’s marketing clearly appealed to youth, most overtly from mid-2015 to 2016, the year following Juul’s launch. His archived Juul ads are filled with attractive young models socializing and flirtatiously sharing the flash-drive shaped device, displaying behavior like dancing to club-like music and clothing styles more characteristic of teens than mature adults. Often, early marketing contains little to no reference to Juul being an option for switching from cigarettes. Juul’s launch events and parties also often featured youth-oriented bands and free tastings, Jackler says, promoted alongside ads that made pods seem like “sweet treats” and made “juuling” (the device is so popular it’s now a verb) seem like casual fun.
“Juul says their goal is to save the lives of a billion smokers,” Jackler says. “You have to ask yourself, ‘Is the company’s behavior aligned with that goal?’ I would have to say, sadly, no. I think they’re being disingenuous, and I told this to them directly -- their marketing in the first six months was patently youth-oriented.”
Juul’s advertising was most obviously youth-oriented early on, Jackler says. However, the company’s social media techniques, such as broadly relatable hashtags in social media posts like #goldenglobes and #nyc that help extend marketing reach, and Juul’s exposure via social media influencers helped foster unpaid peer-to-peer marketing among teens, a viral phenomenon that’s ongoing and doesn’t stop when Juul shuts down its social media accounts, he says. Jackler called Juul’s halting of its U.S. social media accounts “laudable” but “likely to have at most a limited effect.” Following Juul’s decision to stop selling its fruity-flavored pods in stores, Jackler urged Juul to discontinue sales of its mint pods, which also appeal to young people.
“While JUUL has halted its own [social media] posts, the viral peer-to-peer spread among teens the company initiated will live on indefinitely, or at least until the teen craze for Juul abates,” Jackler said in an email. (In a July blog post, Juul said its “growth is not the result of marketing but rather a superior product disrupting an archaic industry.”)
Regulators and Jackler aren’t the only critics. At least four lawsuits were filed this year against Juul by parents, underage users and others, which include allegations that the company deceptively marketed its product as safe and targeted underage and nonsmokers. The lawsuits also claim that Juul is as addictive or more addictive than cigarettes, alleging that Juul’s nicotine salt formula enables higher nicotine absorption into the body than traditional smokes or other e-cigarettes that use nicotine liquid. “JUUL Labs does not believe the cases have merit and will be defending them vigorously,” a Juul spokesperson said via email.
Jackler traces Juul’s questionable marketing back to its launch campaign, “Vaporized,” that featured young-looking models wearing belly-exposing crop tops, ripped jeans and jean jackets with a bright color scheme. The campaign, which launched in 2015, included materials on Juul’s site, email marketing, multiple social media channels and live events, Jackler says. A “Vaporized” video ad shows a young woman twirling her hair and dancing to club-like music. Others models strike playful poses and smile in bright lipstick. The campaign also ran in a full-page spread in Vice magazine in 2015, a publication that has marketed itself as the “#1 youth media company.” One print ad features a model with a long, high ponytail, styled like teen pop megastar Ariana Grande, Jackler notes.
Other images emphasize Juul as the spark for social interaction, Jackler notes. Instagram posts show young couples face to face, mingling exhaled vapor with tag lines like “Share Juul” or “Give Juul,” which Jackler says present the device as a party object to use with friends. Similar ads appeared on a flashing billboard in 2015 in Times Square, showing young models jumping and pouting while enthusiastically vaping.
Many of Juul’s early live events were also youth-oriented, Jackler says. His team identified at least 25 Juul sampling events between June and December 2015 in major U.S. cities such as New York, Miami and Las Vegas, whose “primary purpose was to distribute free samples of Juul devices and flavor pods to a youthful audience to help establish JUUL in the vapor marketplace,” Jackler says. Some of Juul’s events were music- and cinema-themed—for example, an overnight film “slumber party” in Los Angeles, featuring movies such as Can’t Hardly Wait and Cruel Intentions, as well as rooftop movie nights, Jackler says. Juul events often featured bands popular among youth, such as electronic DJs Illuminati AMS and Mary Kwok, as well as vibrant lounge decor that look more fitting for a party for teens than one for adults. The sampling parties were age restricted, either 18 and up, or 21 and up.
While Juul claims that flavored vapes help smokers quit, Jackler warns that flavors disproportionately lure young people (85% of e-cigarette users ages 12 to 17 use flavors according to the Surgeon General). Until this summer, Juul used treat-like flavor names for pods in the U.S. such as Creme Brulee (now called Creme), Cool Mint (now Mint), Cool Cucumber (now Cucumber) and Fruit Medley (now Fruit). Juul still uses descriptive flavor names in the U.K. like Apple Orchard, Mango Nectar and Glacier Mint. In 2009, before Juul was founded, the FDA banned all cigarettes with “characterizing flavors” other than menthol, which halted kid-friendly cigarette flavors like chocolate, grape and strawberry. The ban did not apply to e-cigarettes.
Even Juul’s traditional email marketing could directly reach youth, Jackler says. Over the summer, Jackler’s team found that visitors to Juul’s site who entered their email, date of birth and personal information to sign up but were denied access, were still added to Juul’s email list-serve and received marketing and discounts off its $49.99 starter kit. Juul stopped the practice soon after Jackler’s team notified senior leaders, Jackler says. Many Juul promotional emails from June 2015 to April 2016 failed to mention Juul’s nicotine content, Jackler notes, (such disclosure was apparently not required at that time), and Juul’s Twitter feed didn’t add a nicotine warning until October 2017.
Juul’s marketing campaigns now look drastically different. In 2017, Juul raised the minimum age of its models to 35. Responding to the drastic rise of teen “juuling” the FDA, in April, announced it was taking steps to crack down on e-cigarette use among teens. A few months later, Juul says, it stopped using models and instead began featuring real adult customers who were switching from cigarettes to Juul. The company also made more prominent warnings that its product contains nicotine, “an addictive chemical,” and in June, launched an educational ad campaign called “What Parents Need To Know About Juul” across print, digital and radio to “combat underage use.” Juul also says it has worked with social media platforms to remove tens of thousands of “inappropriate” user-generated posts.
Forbes spoke with Juul cofounders James Monsees, 38, and Adam Bowen, 43, in August. The cofounders, who are worth approximately $730 million apiece, were adamant that they built Juul to help adult smokers, 500,000 of whom die prematurely from tobacco use each year in the U.S. They themselves were addicted, and Monsees’ grandfather smoked heavily and died from lung cancer.
At that time, Monsees said Juul wasn’t able to provide an estimate of the number of youth users. However, the CDC estimates that in 2018 3.6 million U.S. middle and high schoolers are using e-cigarettes. By comparison, the agency most recently estimated there were 6.9 million U.S. adult e-cigarette users in 2017.
“It [underage use] is an issue we desperately want to resolve,” Monsees said in August. “It doesn’t do us any favors. Any underage consumers using this product are absolutely a negative for our business. We don’t want them. We will never market to them. We never have. And they are stealing life years from adult cigarette consumers at this moment, and that’s a shame.”
There’s no doubt that teen-created social media posts about Juul played a crucial role in the device’s spread, says Jackler. He notes, for example, that as of November 12, 2018, the company’s premier hashtag (#juul) was used on 260,866 Instagram posts. By comparison, he estimates that Juul’s Instagram had at most about a few thousand posts in its history, almost all of which it has deleted, suggesting that a small sliver of posts about Juul were made by the company. Juul said this week that more than 99% of all social media content related to the company is generated through “third-party users and accounts with no affiliation to our company.”
Still, Jackler says Juul’s marketing has had serious consequences. He cites research suggesting that exposing young people to digital e-cigarette ads could make them view the products as less harmful and findings that the more marketing channels on which youth saw e-cigarettes ads, the more likely they were to use them. He also points to research showing that exposing e-cigarette ads to youth on social media, who had never used the devices, increased their likelihood of trying cigarettes.
Even Juul’s efficacy as a cessation tool is being questioned. Juul has claimed it has converted 1 million adult smokers to Juul users. However, research by the CDC shared in 2017 found it’s unclear as to whether or not e-cigarettes are as effective at getting people off cigarettes as proven FDA-approved cessation therapies such as patches, gum and lozenges and non-nicotine medications. And while vapes are safer than cigarettes, since e-cigs have fewer toxic and carcinogenic chemicals, there’s still a lack of research on their long-term health effects.
For young people, nicotine addiction can cause substantial damage to the developing brain, including lasting impairment to memory and attention span, and increased psychiatric conditions such as depression and anxiety, according to Dr. Jonathan Winickoff, a Harvard Medical School professor of pediatrics and a tobacco control researcher. Typical addiction treatments also don’t seem very effective among youth, Winickoff says.
When Juul announced it was restricting the sale of its fruity-flavored pods in stores, the company posted a broader multipart “action plan” outlining the steps it is taking to address the youth issue, hinging largely on improving its control over the distribution and sales of its products, and using technology to manage vapers’ use. The company also said it has invested tens of millions of dollars and spent more than a year working on a Bluetooth-enabled device to prevent under age use, which might, for example, help lock out minors or use geofencing to stop Juul from working at schools. (Juul has not started selling the device yet.)
“Commissioner Gottlieb has made it clear that ‘preventing youth initiation on nicotine is a paramount imperative,’” Juul said in a statement on Thursday. “We are committed to working with FDA, state Attorneys General, local municipalities, and community organizations as a transparent and responsible partner in this effort.”
Monsees said this summer that he believes his company’s future technologies can bring Juul to a state “where no underage consumer can ever use the product.” It’s hard to swallow this claim, given reports about teenagers buying Juul pods from others students at high schools around the country. Monsees also said he intends to add features to help customers reduce their nicotine intake, if they choose. Meanwhile, Juul is focused on expanding overseas, where it’ll face opposition too; Israel already banned Juul’s 5% pods.
Still, he’s hopeful. “We are 0.5% of the global tobacco market,” Monsees said this summer. “We’ve hardly touched the problem we’ve come out here to solve.”