Scandal rocked the advertising industry and threatened to place major obstacles in the way of the newly emerging e-cigarette industry recently when an advertising campaign for E-Lites electronic cigarettes was banned by the Advertising Standards Authority in the UK.
The advert which caused the uproar featured a baby taking his first steps then suddenly breaking into the gangdam dance routine as his astonished relatives looked on. His father goes outside for a smoke then re-enters the room having missed the whole thing, commenting “What have I missed?” The advert strapline which appeared at the end of the advert asks; “E-Lites; what are you missing?”
On the face of it, the advert is cute, smile-inducing and not remotely offensive but objections were raised because it featured a baby effectively being used to promote a smoking-related product. E-Lites were further in trouble with the ASA as their advertising campaign on both TV and radio did not make it clear that their product contains nicotine and because of this, all their adverts were banned.
The ASA’s ban came as a direct response to 65 complaints that the E-Lites campaign was irresponsible as it “normalised” smoking and gave the impression that it was safe to use e-cigs. One of the radio ads stated in a voice-over that by using E-Lites you would be able to smoke legally indoors and that the cost was 70% lower than smoking cigarettes. The ASA regulator held that as e-cigs are relatively new on the market, it is important to make the nature of the product crystal clear and as such it was necessary that stress that the product did contain the addictive and potentially harmful product, nicotine. Failure to do so would be misleading for consumers. It was also concerned that the use of a baby in the advert could encourage older children, particularly teenagers, to try E-Lites instead of cigarettes on the assumption that they were a healthy alternative, which clearly they are not.
E-Lites now have the dubious honour of being the first electronic cigarette manufacturer to have its advertising banned by the ASA. Zandera, who make E-Lites, have been told that their adverts must not be broadcast again until such time as they make it clear that the product contains nicotine.
Zandera argued that there are no legal or best practice guidelines stating that product ingredients must be included in advertising material and the TV advert did include a website address where further information could be accessed about the product, including its ingredients. They did not accept that the use of the baby in the advert would encourage children to smoke as there were no direct references to smoking or e-cigs and neither actually appeared in the advert.
This story highlights a potential stumbling block for the manufacturers of e-cigarettes. How do you advertise your product (in the UK at least) without direct reference to smoking? You can’t state that e-cigs are a healthy alternative to tobacco because this has yet to be medically proven and you’re not actually allowed to show anyone using one as this is considered to be endorsing a form of smoking as acceptable. Watch this space, I guess.