“What JUUL did that’s different is it exploited social media, where American middle and high school kids live. That was their innovation.”
JUUL Market Entry Reversed a Downward Trend in Teen Nicotine Use
The above quote by Dr. Robert Jackler, a Stanford University professor, explains how a pair of graduate students cornered more than three quarters of the electronic-cigarette market in the United States. It also explains how Adam Bowen, founder and chief technology officer, and James Monsees, founder and chief product officer, engineered such a meteoric rise in Juul sales.
Teen use of tobacco products during the past 40 years has dropped dramatically, much to the relief of parents and teachers. In 2011, less than 2 percent of high-school students used electronic cigarettes. Then JUUL came to market in 2015. In 2018, 21 percent of high-school students said they vaped.
Once the company entered the market, JUUL products consisted of sleek, concealable shapes and arrays of fruity flavors and became a preferred choice for both adult and teen smokers. The vaping device, resembling a usb flash drive, is designed to hold Juul pods that contain nicotine – more specifically, nicotine salts – that are inhaled via a liquid-to-wick system. Each pod has an amount of nicotine equivalent to up to two packs of cigarettes and delivers 200 puffs.
Dr. Robert Jackler’s White Paper Demonstrated Evidence of a Contradiction Between Juul’s Adult-Focused Mission and its Youth-Focused Marketing
In 2018, JUUL’s stated mission included to “Improve the lives of the world’s one billion adult smokers.” The company stated it was “dedicated to eliminating cigarettes by offering existing adult smokers with a better alternative to combustible cigarettes.”
Dr. Jackler debunked those assertions in a 48-page white paper that studied JUUL’s advertising campaigns from 2015 to 2018.
“JUUL’s advertising imagery in its first 6 months on the market was patently youth oriented,” according to the white paper. “For the next 2½ years it was more muted, but the company’s advertising was widely distributed on social media channels frequented by youth, was amplified by hashtag extensions, and catalyzed by compensated influencers and affiliates.”
Dr. Jackler’s white paper stated that JUUL’s mission about “the world’s billion adult smokers” and “a world where fewer adults use cigarettes” is incongruent with its marketing.
“JUUL’s Vaporized launch campaign featured models in their 20s appearing in trendy clothes engaged in poses and movements more evocative of underage teens than mature adults,” according to the white paper. “Subsequently, JUUL’s principal advertising themes have been closely aligned with that of traditional tobacco advertising (pleasure / relaxation, socialization / romance, flavors, cost savings and discounts, holidays / seasons, style / identity, and satisfaction). Advertising prominently featured sweet and fruity flavors, especially mango. The company employed social media influencers as brand ambassadors. They also sought individuals who were popular on the internet, enrolled them in JUUL’s affiliate program, and compensated them for posting positive reviews while insisting that they not reveal this relationship.”
The revelation about the influencers, social media mavens with “followers” whose comments, hashtags and images are seen by many rather than few, is, perhaps, the most telling as to the extent the company went to appeal to youths.
“Confirming that JUUL used influencers since its inception was a June 2015 listing for an Influencer Marketing Intern,” the white paper explains. “The job description makes the strategy clear: “The Influencer Marketing Intern will create and manage blogger, social media and celebrity influencer engagements…to build and nurture appropriate relationships with key influencers in order to drive positive commentary and recommendations through word of mouth and social media channels, etc.”
JUUL has suspended its posts on its Facebook, has not Tweeted since August 2019, and removed itself from Instagram. Notably, in 2020 their mission statement has been revised to include a specific anti-youth focus: “to transition the world’s billion adult smokers away from combustible cigarettes, eliminate their use, and combat underage usage of our products.” But the damage already has been done to teens and young adults.
Attorneys General Across the United States are Investigating Juul’s Youth Marketing for Potential Deceptive and/or Misleading Statements
“The JUUL hashtag lives on. It’s immortal. It’s still viral in peer-to-peer teen promotion.”
That is another quote from Dr. Jackler, who formed Stanford Research Into the Impact of Tobacco Advertising in 2007 and serves as its principal investigator. His white paper published in January 2019. A little more than a year later, JUUL is staring down a multistate probe of corporate marketing schemes. As of February 2020, 39 state attorneys general are moving forward with a joint investigation into its practices.
A February 25, 2020 article by The Associated Press titled “‘A world of hurt’: 39 states to investigate Juul’s marketing” explains the legal situation.
“A coalition of 39 states will look into the marketing and sales of vaping products by Juul Labs, including whether the company targeted youths and made misleading claims about nicotine content in its devices, officials announced Tuesday. Attorneys general from Connecticut, Florida, Nevada, Oregon and Texas said they will lead the multi-state investigation into San Francisco-based Juul, which also is facing lawsuits by teenagers and others who say they became addicted to the company’s vaping products. The state officials said they also will investigate the company’s claims about the risk, safety and effectiveness of its vaping products as smoking cessation devices.”
The article notes that JUUL has ended all digital, print, and television advertising and no longer sells flavored pods, all of which led to its meteoric rise. Once again, the damage already has been done.
“The brainchild of two Stanford University design students, Juul launched in 2015 and quickly rocketed to the top of the multibillion-dollar vaping market,” the article continues. “The company initially sold its high-nicotine pods in fruit and dessert flavors, including mango, mint and creme. The products have become a scourge in U.S. high schools, with one in four teenagers reportedly vaping in the past month, according to the latest federal figures. Juul is the most popular brand, preferred by 60% of high schoolers.”
Another story from The Hill quoted Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum.
“JUUL’s aggressive advertising has significantly contributed to a public health crisis in Oregon and across the country,” Rosenblum said. “I intend to continue to use the powers of my office to investigate and take action against JUUL and any other companies that have a role in selling these addictive and dangerous products to youth.”
It also quoted U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar.
“Our action today seeks to strike the right public health balance by maintaining e-cigarettes as a potential off-ramp for adults using combustible tobacco while ensuring these products don’t provide an on-ramp to nicotine addiction for our youth,” Azar said.