LONDON/ATLANTA: E-cigarette advertising has come in for criticism on both sides of the Atlantic, on one for its supposed effectiveness, on the other for its crassness.
Leo Rayman, chief strategy officer at Grey London, said that ads for the controversial products "aren't making vaping socially acceptable or popular".
Talking to Marketing, he described them as being like "something out of the 1980s".
"Perhaps that's because people who market nicotine haven't been able to since the 1980s and haven't moved on," he mused.
"Or perhaps as investors and innovators they're new to advertising and opting for the basic aspirational tropes of sexiness and adventure."
Whatever the creative quality of the advertising, an increasing number of young people are exposed to it.
A study published last week by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta said that 70% of US teens had seen ads for e-cigarettes – most often in-store (55%), but also online (40%), on TV or in movies (37%) and in print (30%).
"The same advertising tactics the tobacco industry used years ago to get kids addicted to nicotine are now being used to entice a new generation of young people to use e-cigarettes," said CDC director Dr. Tom Frieden, in comments reported by Time.
The report charted a correlation between the growth in adspend for e-cigarettes – from $6.4m in 2011 to $115m in 2014 – and the rise in youth use of the product – some 16% of high school seniors had smoked an e-cigarette in the past month, compared with 11.4% who had smoked a conventional cigarette.
The market in the UK has been given a boost by the recent decision of the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA) to award a licence to e-Voke, an e- cigarette made by British American Tobacco, meaning it could become available on NHS prescription to help traditional smokers quit.
There is still some debate about the safety of e-cigarettes and the regulatory landscape is also unclear.
Marketing noted that while they are currently covered by product regulations, later this year they will come under a revised EU Tobacco Products Directive which could mean a possible ad ban.
But manufacturers will have been buoyed by the MHRA decision and will be optimistic that any ban could be reversed.
Data sourced from Marketing, Time, BBC; additional content by Warc staff