JUUL Labs is launching an “adult education campaign” that will include $10 million in TV advertising. The TV spots follow similar ads on radio, social media, and in print publications. The entire campaign will cost the company $20 million.
The ads will appear on cable networks after prime time, and are carefully adult-oriented. The three commercials that are featured in the campaign show ex-smokers “describing the impact switching from cigarettes has had on their lives,” according to JUUL Labs. None of the participants look even close to being under 30.
Interestingly, two of the JUUL users in the TV ads are non-white. That’s refreshing — and smart — because African-Americans have been mostly left out of vaping’s harm reduction revolution, and cigarettes do a disproportionate amount of damage in communities of color. Kudos to JUUL for recognizing an underserved group that needs to hear the truth about low-risk nicotine products.
JUUL has been publicly reamed for its 2015 launch campaign, which featured bright colors and young adults, earning the inevitable accusation from tobacco control activists of “marketing to children.” Those silly (and ineffective) ads were long gone before the first reports of “juuling” kids started coming in from affluent east coast schools in 2017.
The company’s success has not been driven by traditional advertising — and not even by social media marketing. JUUL made a point of shutting down its Facebook, Instagram and YouTube accounts last year, but frankly, JUUL’s social media has always been boring and non-descript anyway.
Teenage vapers have probably never become users through JUUL’s own efforts. In fact, it’s likely that the majority of juulers, old and young, heard about the device from friends and acquaintances — just like vaping in general has spread. Love JUUL or hate it, there’s no denying its simplicity and ease of use, or the remarkably cigarette-like delivery of its 59 mg/mL nicotine.
But tobacco control activists don’t believe in word-of-mouth. They’re determined that all “tobacco” use is the result of tricky marketing by evil corporations to push an addictive product to minors, and there aren’t enough “switch stories” in the known universe to sway them from their convictions. Truth Initiative did two deceptive studies last year intended to back up the JUUL madness narrative.
JUUL’s incredible success has been driven in part by the free advertising it has received from the Truth Initiative, Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Academy of Pediatrics, the FDA, CDC, and a few thousand national, regional and local news stories accusing the product of “addicting a new generation” to nicotine, and fomenting a massive moral panic.
FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb has used preliminary data from the 2018 National Youth Tobacco Survey — which showed a 78 increase in past-30-day vaping — to accuse JUUL of being the leading contributor to an “epidemic” of youth vaping, even though the number of high school kids who vape regularly is less than six percent, and the number who have never smoked is likely much lower than that. The FDA chief began using the term epidemic after the FDA had already produced its own anti-vaping ad campaign called — of course — ”Epidemic.”
Whether JUUL’s ads succeed in a commercial sense (increase sales and awareness) is almost beside the point. The purpose of these ads is to convince the FDA that the company is focused on adults — and only adults. That makes the ad campaign of a piece with JUUL’s other recent initiatives.
Over the last year, JUUL has poured $30 million into its own “youth prevention” initiative and pledged support for Tobacco 21 laws. In doing that, the company has shown itself willing to abandon adult 18- to 20-year-old vapers and smokers who would benefit from access to their products. JUUL has also gratuitously implied that the independent e-liquid companies that have served vapers since before JUUL even existed are selling flavors aimed at kids.
The company also went after manufacturers of JUUL-compatible pods, and filed patent complaints against companies making JUUL-like devices. JUUL also promised future innovations like a Bluetooth-enabled JUUL that could prevent unauthorized use by sneaky teenagers.
In November, the company also pulled all flavors of their pods from the retail market except tobacco, menthol, and mint. The only place to get their wildly popular mango flavor (along with fruit, creme, and cucumber) is from JUUL’s own website, which uses cutting-edge age verification tech to keep anyone under 21 from making a purchase.
In late December, JUUL Labs announced that cigarette goliath Altria had invested almost $13 million in JUUL, buying a 35 percent stake in the San Francisco vape company, and boosting its market value to $38 billion. That made JUUL Labs the second-highest valued private company in the country, after Uber.
In exchange for the inevitable criticism JUUL received, the company got access to an additional 140,000 retail outlets and prime shelf space next to Altria’s cigarettes. Altria also agreed to shut down its own e-cigarette brands, MarkTen and GreenSmoke, and committed to putting JUUL advertising in Marlboro packages. JUUL says it will retain full control of its business, but Altria will have 35 percent representation on the JUUL board.
Nothing JUUL does –at least nothing short of burning its offices and executing its staff — will satisfy the horde of professional anti-vaping activists that has latched onto the e-cigarette brand. JUUL will be forever accused of marketing to children by the joyless drones of tobacco control, whether or not the company does any marketing at all.
JUUL can expect an unrelenting and permanent onslaught from the Campaign for Tobacco-Free Kids, American Academy of Pediatrics, and the army of other academics and interest groups that have nipped at the heels of the vapor industry since the first e-cigarette landed on U.S. shores. They’ll never stop, as long as there’s money and power to be squeezed from the consumers of nicotine and the corpses of dead smokers.