Monday, December 10, 2012
Can electronic cigarettes recreate retro rebelliousness?
Try to remember the last time someone waxed poetic about the days when smoking cigarettes in coffee shops and bars was considered cool.
While it’s probably been a while, a recent Chicago Reader column by Tal Rosenberg lamented and lampooned how the 2008 Illinois smoking ban helped eliminate the once vibrant vibe of the Windy City’s coffee shop culture. On the same day, a Business Insider article predicted a possible bright and lucrative future for electronic cigarette advertising. A couple days later, the New York Times and Bloomberg Business ran stories on the growth of electronic cigarettes and their advertising.
The timing of these stories and comments got me thinking about whether electronic cigarettes could ever replace traditional cigarettes as an accepted social behavior with a tamer version of the once audacious act of smoking tobacco, or do the same in the mainstream advertising and marketing worlds.
Cigarette smokers have been relegated to the point where just catching a whiff of tobacco on the street sends one on a time warp to a Mad Men episode. It’s hard to believe there were times and places where smoking represented a sense of romantic rebelliousness such as Chicago in the ‘90s, Greenwich Village in the ‘60s, Casablanca in the ‘40s or Paris in the ‘20s. Yes, the times they are a changin’ at coffee houses around the world.
It’s certainly debatable whether smoking bans themselves, more health conscious attitudes or both are beating the drums of change at coffee shops, bars and other places formerly known for their smoky ambiance.
As much criticism as smokers endure for their habit, they tend to be on the eccentric, independent and nomadic side, which fits right in with that old school coffee house culture.
However, as coffee houses and taverns move ever farther from their Bohemian roots, is there a chance that electronic cigarettes can be part of either a rebellious or acceptable future social consciousness?
Whether or not we want to admit it, our basic cultural behavior is often driven by advertising, public relations and now more by social media. Much like the overall market for electronic cigarettes, brand and product advertising and marketing is currently very fragmented even though some major brands like Blu, Njoy and a few others might control larger market shares.
With all due respect to Blu Cigs with its Stephen Dorff ads and others, there just haven’t yet been enough major electronic cigarette advertising or high profile celebrity endorsements to generate significant public interest.
That could be changing now as the New York Times and Bloomberg indicated that Njoy is launching a major ad campaign in the $12-14 million range covering cable and local television, print, online, social media and public relations. A major breakthrough for e-cig advertising will come when ads appear on national broadcast networks.
Some of the latest numbers from the electronic cigarette world include an estimated 3.5 million users in the United States from the Tobacco Electronic Cigarette Association with sales of $500 million from Bonnie Herzog, tobacco analyst for Wells Fargo Securities, whose increasing media profile as an electronic cigarette market source is another sign of the industry’s growth.
Herzog estimates U.S. annual e-cigarette sales are now about $500 million while tobacco cigarettes are about $1 billion. She and others have compared the current e-cigarette market to where energy drinks were several years ago before dramatically taking off.
The fine line that electronic cigarette marketers have been walking might be widening when it comes to claims of being a “healthier” alternative to traditional cigarettes as some ads are using language like “Rise from the ashes” for Blu or “Cigarettes, you’ve met your match” for Njoy or “Make the switch today and change your life” from SouthBeach Smoke.
While those taglines might have “come a long way baby” from old school cigarettes ads like “Winston tastes good like a cigarette should” or “Come to Marlboro country,” they show that advertising will likely drive the growth of electronic cigarettes as a mainstream product.