For Juul Labs, 2018 was a long year full of ups and downs, with the company coming under heavy scrutiny by the FDA over the popularity of the nicotine vaporizer with young people. But as we begin 2019, Juul is kicking off the year with a massive ad campaign focused on getting adult smokers to “make the switch” to Juul.
The marketing campaign is part of a broader effort for the company fresh off a $12.8 billion financing from cigarette juggernaut Altria and a bout of withering criticism from the U.S. government.
“It [underage use] is an issue we desperately want to resolve,” Chief Product Officer and co-founder James 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.”
In response, Juul spent the greater part of the year working to combat underage use: The company first changed its social media channels to feature only adult former smokers as models, and then removed all marketing through social media, deleting Instagram, Facebook and YouTube. Juul also removed all non-cigarette flavors of its Juul pods from all sales channels except its own age-verified website. The company invested $30 million toward its own youth prevention plan, and went after counterfeiters, copycat devices and illegal online sales of both its own product and counterfeiters.
The difference between the 2015 campaign and these new TV spots is stark, with the new ads hyper focused on older individuals telling their stories of switching from cigarettes to Juul.
The main spend ($10 million) is going toward TV spots, with the ads airing on cable after 10pm, geared specifically toward an older audience. Radio, print and online ads featuring testimonials have already begun circulating, and total spend on the campaign is around $20 million. Juul intends to remain flexible on overall spend on the campaign, so that number could go up or down as the marketing push continues.
Juul’s sales figures are kept under wraps, giving us little insight into how public and government scrutiny have affected the company’s financials. That said, it’s clear that the brand has been eroded over the last year, despite the company’s scaled efforts to rectify the situation.
These ads seem to be a step in the right direction for the company. Studies have shown that Juul is effective in helping adult smokers switch from combustible cigarettes. Public Health England has also said that e-cigs are 95 percent less harmful than traditional smokes. That said, the scientific community has yet to determine whether or not there are long-term health risks associated with e-cigs.
However, the segment that is most likely to benefit from Juul is also a group that has been stigmatized over the last few decades and ultimately garner little empathy from the rest of society, despite suffering from an addiction to the leading cause of preventable death across the globe. But if Juul, and e-cigs in general, can show the life-saving potential that comes with disrupting traditional cigarettes, maybe the company can build up more credibility with the public as a whole.