LONDON: Social media and point-of-sale will become increasingly important communications channels for e-cigarette brands when the EU Tobacco Products Directive comes into effect later this month.

From 20 May, advertising and promotion of these products will not be permitted on TV, radio, print (trade publications are an exception) or online display. Cinema, out of home and point of sale will still be allowed.

The social-media platforms of vaping brands are also unaffected and John Wardley, chief marketing officer at Fontem Ventures, maker of the Blu brand, told Marketing that these would play a significant role in his future plans.

He explained that was because the category has a major job to do in educating the public, which is confused about the science surrounding it. Many people believe that e-cigarettes are at least as harmful as cigarettes – 22% in one 2015 survey – while Public Health England, a government agency, has pronounced them to be 95% less harmful than smoking.

"What we need to do as a category is increase the educational debate," he said. "We need to let consumers know what is in e-cigarettes, that they're less harmful than cigarettes, and the science behind it."

For him, social media – and consumer advocacy – is key to getting this message across. "In any category, word of mouth is probably your strongest marketing tool," he noted, "but that's probably even more pronounced in ours."

The other area likely to see greater investment is point of sale, according to Sarah Green, chief executive of creative shopper-marketing and brand-activation agency Grey Shopper.

In-store communications will take on significant importance in driving growth, she stated. "Brands will want to consider the channel, the shopper and the shopper mission, then ensure strength in the communication: does it grab my attention? Is it clear why this brand is better than another?"

Wardley also expected the category would be further reshaped when the directive's product restrictions come into effect in November this year, with specifications laid down for manufacturing quality, labelling and packaging, and a requirement that products are pre-approved.

"The product restrictions will increase trust among consumers," he said. "Those brands that are serious about quality control and being transparent about their manufacturing practices will have the upper hand."

Data sourced from Marketing; additional content by Warc staff