The Perks of Commercializing E-Cigs

NJOY CEO says new ads will help electronic cigarettes surpass traditional cigarettes

Melissa Vonder Haar, Freelance Writer

NEW YORK -- Last Thursday, NJOY president CEO Craig Weiss participated in a Wells Fargo-hosted "Tobacco Talks" conference call, speaking at length about recent TV and Internet commercials and the impact such advertising has on the growing electronic cigarette segment.

"We saw a very material sales lift from the advertising," he said of the TV ad, which played during the Academy Awards and in some regions during the Super Bowl. "You're about to start noticing it quite a bit more as we roll out in a much more serious and robust way nationally."

"The feedback has been very positive, both from retailers and consumers," he continued. "It's provided another air of legitimacy to the category, sparked a significant amount of consumer awareness and--most importantly from my perspective--trial."

While the TV commercials do not feature any celebrity or NJOY spokesperson, the Scottsdale, Ariz.-based company recently premiered a viral commercial with musician Courtney Love (watch it here). In little more than a week, the video has garnered almost 200,000 views--and is growing by the day. Yet, Weiss revealed that NJOY never planned to seek out a celebrity face: Love approached them about doing a commercial after trying NJOY Kings.

"The first I heard of Courtney was that she started tweeting about the product on her own," said Weiss. "It's very exciting to us. There's not enough money in the world to buy all the celebrities, but what's exciting is when they come to you … To me, it's a really encouraging sign that we're doing something good: It's a manifestation of overall consumer acceptance."

It's that consumer acceptance and awareness that NJOY and other electronic cigarettes are after--and why Weiss said NJOY plans to roll out more national advertising in the near future.

"I would say the vast majority of smokers have heard of an electronic cigarette, but they don't quite fully understand how good it can be," he said. "They don't understand that--at least in respect to the NJOY Kings offering--it can be as good, or better, than the real thing. That's something that our advertising is able to educate consumers about."

In fact, Weiss said he believes such advertising will ultimately help e-cigarettes surpass tobacco cigarettes in terms of sales and consumption. While Wells Fargo senior analyst Bonnie Herzog has often predicted that such a transition could feasibly happen in the next decade, Weiss said he anticipates commercials and social media could speed up the process.

"I think Bonnie is very conservative with her predictions about the category--I don't think it's going to take 10 years," he said.

History might support such a bold claim: Weiss pointed out that it took the less than 10 years for filtered cigarettes to go from roughly 2% of the market to surpassing the traditional unfiltered cigarettes, in large part thanks to the commercial advent of the Marlboro Man.

"Part of that adoption you saw in the 1950s was led by this new amazing technology called the television," Weiss said. "Of course, we have that tool at our disposal today in the form of our commercial. But we also have this really amazing tool: we have the Internet."

"Smokers are very social people and they often go to social media to talk about their experience," he continued, noting the success of the Courtney Love video. "It's just a testament to the power of conversation."