E-cigarette advertising takes a page from old-school cigarette ads

If you’ve noticed an increase in e-cigarette advertising lately, there are good reasons why.

With only a few days left in 2013, smokers are contemplating new year’s resolutions to kick their deadly habit. E-cigs—which contain nicotine, but not tobacco, and claim to be much healthier than traditional cigarettes—could be their savior.

But more importantly, the US Food and Drug Administration is also preparing to release a key ruling on how it will regulate the e-cig industry. The Wall Street Journal says e-cig makers are preparing to ramp up advertising dramatically (paywall) to increase brand awareness while they still can.

The nascent industry, which boomed in 2013, has come in for its fair share of criticism for employing the same exploitative techniques as tobacco companies once did. (That shouldn’t be too surprising: Big tobacco companies are piling into the industry). So we decided to take a look.

There’s certainly a whiff of the past in the latest ad released by Blu, the e-cigarette brand owned by tobacco giant Lorillard. There’s the celebrity endorsement, a feature of e-cigarette advertising for decades, with actor Stephen Dorff vaping away in a variety of glamorous situations.

Here’s a couple of screenshots. You be the judge.

There is the contemplative pose…

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…which compares to the Malboro man of the 1980s:


Here’s another shot…

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…that reminds us of:


There’s even the obligatory shot at the racetrack (Blu has been sponsoring IndyCar drivers):

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…which is also vaguely familiar:


The Blu ad also features libertarian messaging, another mainstay of tobacco advertising. “After all, this country was founded on free will,” Dorff says. “Embrace it, chase it. Take back your freedom.”

OK, maybe the aesthetic comparisons are a bit of a stretch. Certainly, the latest ad from NJOY—one of the biggest players in the industry, backed by internet entrepreneur Sean Parker—can’t be accused of copying the past. The ad, which was released on Christmas Day, is just plain strange:

But the message here is still clear: Don’t let down your friends! It’s exploiting peer pressure. One of the oldest tricks in the advertising book.

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