After news reports of teens suffering severe lung damage from vaping in recent weeks, there has been a focus in the media about the risks of this new way of ingesting nicotine. Vaping is “less dangerous” than smoking, but this is a bit like saying one alligator is less dangerous than 3 alligators – it’s all relative and vaping is still dangerous. In the end, everyone, youth included, continue to vape for one reason: addiction to nicotine. Having said this, you can’t get addicted to nicotine until you use it, so today let’s consider how sophisticated marketing sets young people up to want to try vaping.
Reading the many news articles on the growing awareness of the risks of vaping, you can learn how appealing flavours and interesting technology are some of the marketing tools used to entice younger users to start vaping. This is the tip of the iceberg. There is an entire industry, with sophisticated marketing advice available to those with a vaping business. This kind of marketing is very expensive, but it doesn’t compare at all to the marketing power of Juul, which has been the most successful vaping company to date.
The success of marketing lies in the success of stories and we all like stories in which we are the hero. If you’re a teen, you are still trying to find your life story. What kind of person do you want to be? What kind of job do you want? As school gets harder, as athletic challenges get tougher, as your competitors in the Kiwanis Music Festival become more talented, your vision of yourself may have to adapt – and not always in a direction that you like. Products can appeal to you because they tell you a story about yourself that you want to hear: you’re popular, you’re successful, you’re talented.
Marketing capitalizes on images, on Instagram, or in online ads in the periphery of your vision. There isn’t time in these brief glimpses for the marketer to draw out the story, but they don’t have to. It’s so easy to project the story you want onto attractive images on Instagram. You don’t need someone else’s fairy tale. You have your own. Marketing agencies and marketing departments are testing their messages on their target audiences to the point where the ads and images are almost as addictive as nicotine. We all thrive on positive images of ourselves and vaping companies have had free reign to market their products with little interference from agencies concerned about youth health.
The agencies concerned with health and teen health are struggling to compete. All you have to do to confirm this is have a quick look at some of the websites providing information about the risks of vaping. The information is solid, but these are not slick, sophisticated ad campaigns and they can’t compete with the marketers of Juul. Their budgets make this impossible.
Given the high cost of nicotine addiction – and the emerging health risks associated with vaping – it’s time for governments and health agencies to make the investment to market the benefits of the good health that comes from not vaping or from stopping vaping. The tools are clearly available and we can do this.