Blu's CMO on why e-cigarette brands should appeal to the heart

E-cigarettes have had their work cut out overcoming safety concerns and image problems - but it's time for brands to take their communication to the next level, says Blu's marketing boss.

Blu: the e-cigarette brand's latest campaign
Blu: the e-cigarette brand's latest campaign
The most powerful way to connect with the consumer is emotionally not rationally - and by doing that we’re really trying to position Blu as the category's thought leaders

Cigarettes: they’re smelly, dangerous and outmoded… but an evocative prop in our culture.

E-cigarettes, the hi-tech successor to standard cigarettes, have made progress in convincing smokers that they’re safer and more socially acceptable, but arguably have failed to create the same kind of emotional resonance with nicotine users - so far.

That’s something that Blu, one of the top brands in the UK, hopes to change with its new campaign Just You & Blu, created by The Corner, which launched last week.

John Wardley, chief marketing officer at brand owner Fontem Ventures, says the aim of the campaign is to elevate e-cigarette marketing to the same higher plane as leading brands in other categories.

"What we’re trying to do with this campaign is create an emotional connection with our consumers," says Wardley, "and in doing that it differentiates us from a lot of sameness in the e-cig category. Over the years there’s been a lot of advertising focused on very rational benefits - battery life, gadgetry, flavour ranges.

"But if you look at any category, not just ours, the most powerful way to connect with the consumer is emotionally, not rationally. It’s about time someone in this category stood up and did that. And by doing so we’re really trying to position Blu as the category's thought leader."

There's still plenty of misunderstanding

With its helicopter-piloting cattle herder protagonist, Blu’s TV spot conveys ideas of doing things differently and relying on oneself - themes that also run through the campaign’s black and white print and outdoor ads, which feature four other independent spirits: motorcyclist, comedian, drag queen and model.

One of the things that has held this category back has been a product that hasn’t been up to scratch

"What we’ve done with the TV and the print ads in focus in on a contemporary subject who is aspirational, real, and who we believe our consumer will identify with," says Wardley. "It offers adult smokers a positive alternative to what they’re currently doing."

But while Wardley is adamant vaping brands need to move on from functional communication, he recognises the category still faces a major task in making sure smokers are properly informed - describing the current state of affairs as an "embryonic stage".

"There’s a lot of misunderstanding about e-cigarettes," he claims. "We need to explain to consumers that e-cigs are less harmful than regular cigarettes, they have no tobacco, there’s no combustion, no smoke or smell - we need to increase the educational debate."

There’s another message Wardley says needs to go alongside this: improved product quality "This category has a fantastic future ahead of it, but one of the things that has held it back has been a product that hasn’t been up to scratch."

Big changes looming

If that is still the case to some extent, it’s likely things will change in the next year, as Europe-wide manufacturing regulations come into effect, which Wardley believes is likely to cause consolidation and push out some smaller players that are unwilling or unable to comply.

The manufacturing rules, which cover areas like the size of liquid refills and the rate at which vapour can be released from a device, come into effect in November. But before that, advertising regulations come into effect on 20 May and mean that from that date, e-cigs can no longer be advertised on TV, in print or online.

A number of other channels will remain available, however, including cinema, outdoor, brands’ own social media channels and point of sale materials. Wardley says the restrictions will simply mean that what is still available will have to work harder.

"Certain media in certain markets are going to be cut off to us - we acknowledge that and we respect that," he says. "But Just You & Blu is a long term campaign, and our vision is long term. So we’re absolutely looking for other ways to bring it to life."

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