Advertising guru Rory Sutherland recently hit back in defense of e-cigs not long after the first Vype commercial hit British airwaves. British American Tobacco’s Vype took part in breaking the almost fifty year ban on cigarette advertising on television. That’s really only the case if you consider a television spot for an e-cigarette, one that actually shatters the cigarette advertising taboo. This is where the argument about e-cigarettes such as Vype really takes hold: perception.
The power of perception is a subject near and dear to the heart of Rory Sutherland, the aforementioned advertising executive who wrote that fascinating article about cigarette advertising returning to television. A lot of people may see advertising as an evil because it can warp our view of what something is, purely for the purpose of getting us to buy it.
Advertisers get the public to feel good about a particular product in the hopes that it will bring more profit to the company that produces it, not necessarily because the product itself is good for us. In his TED talk, Mr. Sutherland takes on this persona in full force, but then makes a case for why raising our perception of something is actually more valuable than making the thing itself better. That may not sound possible, but he delivers a convincing argument here:
Now that is the kind of talker we could use on the side of e-cigarettes! Thankfully for us, it appears from his article that Rory Sutherland completely understands the advantages of e-cigs and the predicament they are currently in. He calls them a “disruptive innovation” because they are they type of product that comes in and shakes things up. Large organizations already had a stranglehold on nicotine and addiction, from tobacco companies to pharmaceuticals. We should have expected the pushback and we got that, first with tobacco companies and now from the other companies that have a profit interest in keeping e-cigs scary and unknown.
Brewing this type of atmosphere is part of what produces such a backlash against the e-cigarette and its supposed dangers.
Specifically when it comes to cigarette advertising, there were certainly voices that came out against the recent Vype television commercial. This article by Arwa Mahdawi pretty much vilifies an invention that is simply life changing to so many people. She goes as far as calling them devices that are “designed to deliver potent parasympathomimetic alkaloid into a person’s lungs” and proceeds to take aim at the Vype commercial, which she insists will bring smoking back to the fore when it was no longer. That these ads will renormalize smoking. People like Ms. Mahdawi just don’t seem to grasp what has driven electronic cigarettes to such enormous growth in only five years.
You see, the thing is we already know that those using e-cigarettes are predominantly smokers by a very large margin. Those being drawn to e-cigs are smokers who want to make a change, not people who think “vaping” is the cool thing to do. There is no doubt that advertising is going to make electronic cigarettes look attractive, because that is the entire point of a commercial, isn’t it? The target audience for these commercials is still going to be smokers, because those are the people that are most interested in these revolutionary products.
The Vype commercial is pretty sleek, but we aren’t so sure it crossed any sort of line in how e-cigs should be presented.