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Juul had major success marketing its e-cigs on Twitter and Instagram

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woman girl vaping staring eyesShutterstock

  • A Silicon Valley
    e-cig startup called Juul
    has surged in popularity,
    amassing 70% of the e-cig market.
  • The company was recently valued at $15
    billion,
     but faces a
    growing backlash
    from public health experts and scientists
    who worry about its popularity among young people.
  • Juul maintains that its products are for adult smokers
    who want to move away from traditional cigarettes.
  • A recent study reveals that Juul stood out from other
    e-cig companies by marketing its devices on social media
    platforms like Twitter, YouTube, and Instagram.
  • That marketing campaign was a big success, the study
    suggests, with Juul’s social media activities being “highly
    correlated” with sales.

One big question about the booming Silicon Valley e-cigarette
startup Juul is whether the company deliberately
marketed
its products to teens.

Juul has said that its sleek vaping devices are intended for
adults trying to quit smoking traditional cigarettes, and that
its marketing has had
little impact
on its sales. But a
recent study
raises some questions. It suggests that Juul’s
social media ads — which were posted across platforms popular
with young people including YouTube, Twitter, and Instagram —
were a runaway success.

Public health experts, scientists, and the Food and Drug
Administration have been
targeting vaping companies
in recent months after dozens of
reports surfaced which suggested they were encouraging more young
people to both vape
and smoke
. A handful of
researchers has said
that a combination of the company’s
marketing efforts and product offerings — such as slick designs
and sweet flavors — are intended to
hook young people
on nicotine.

The researchers behind the
paper
, published this summer in the journal Tobacco Control,
concluded that Juul stood out from other e-cig brands by
advertising predominantly on social media, as opposed to in other
places like on billboards or in magazines. And the campaign took
off, according to the researchers, who wrote that sales of the
flash-drive-style devices were “highly correlated” with its
social media posts.

The social media campaign had another added benefit: it was
cheaper than traditional marketing strategies, the researchers
suggest.

The social media blitz wasn’t all directly from Juul, however —
further complicating any clean-up efforts designed to help scale
back the products’ allure among teens. Several other corporate
social media accounts besides Juul’s official platforms heavily
promoted Juul products.

The overall impact was significant, the researchers concluded.

“Targeted cross-platform social media campaigns, although they
cost little, can have substantial influence on people’s
attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors related to these products,”
they wrote.

‘Taking advantage of the reach and accessibility of these
platforms’


juul girl 2016An ad on Juul’s website from
2016.

Jidong Huang, an associate professor of health management and
policy at Georgia State University and lead author of the study,

told the Washington Times
over the summer that he felt the
company’s use of social media was a deliberate attempt to target
young people.

Juul is “taking advantage of the reach and accessibility of these
platforms to target youth and young adults,” Huang said, adding,
“basically everybody can see their product because there are no
restrictions.”

Juul has been adamant in stating that its devices are not
intended for young people. The company did not respond to
Business Insider’s request for comment.

Many social media users, however, are young people. On Twitter,
more than a quarter of users are
under 18
, according to a Pew survey. That platform has been
particularly lucrative for Juul, according to the researchers.
YouTube meanwhile is is the single most recognized content brand
among kids aged 12-15, a
2017 report
concluded. To that end, a Juul spokesperson

told Business Insider in July
that the company had worked
with Instagram to remove several accounts and thousands of posts
that were inappropriately targeting youth.

But before then, a handful of social media accounts — including
Juul’s official platforms — attracted the attention of thousands.
And that attention appears to have had strong links to sales of
Juul’s products, the authors wrote.

In particular, the researchers found that the number of
Juul-related tweets — most of which were posted last year — was
“highly correlated” with the company’s quarterly retail sales,
which they tracked using data from market research company
Nielsen. That said, correlation isn’t necessarily causation. The
researchers couldn’t say that the tweets necessarily led to the
sales, only that the two were linked.

“The growth trend in Juul tweets noticeably tracks well [with]
the growth in Juul retail sales,” the researchers wrote.

The relationship between Juul-related tweets and Juul sales was
so strong, the authors found, that “the number of tweets alone
accounted for 93% of the variation in Juul sales in retail
stores.” Put another way, the amount of Juul tweets could be used
to roughly predict how many Juuls would be sold at any given
time.

‘When you look at the flavoring names, one has to wonder’


save room for juul flavor chef weight loss ad
A 2016 ad tells people to
“Save room for Juul” and says its flavors are “easy to pair with
your favorite foods.”

Juul

According to Huang and his co-authors, Juul’s official Instagram
account, called JuulVapor, garnered tens of thousands of “likes”
by evoking feelings of “relaxation, freedom, and sex appeal.”
While that strategy is somewhat standard in the advertising
industry, something that made Juul’s campaign stand out to the
researchers was its emphasis on flavors.

At the time, those flavors included options like “Fruit
Medley,” “Cool Cucumber,” and “Creme Brulee.”

Several researchers
have said
that sweet, candy-like flavors are part of what
makes e-cigs attractive to teens.

“Most scientists believe flavorings are used to target teenagers
into becoming users,”
Ana Rule
, a professor of environmental health and engineering
at Johns Hopkins University,
told Business Insider
this summer.

“There are of course many other factors such as marketing
and peer-pressure, but when you look at the flavoring names, one
has to wonder.”

With that in mind, the city of San Francisco also recently
voted to
ban all flavored tobacco products.
 And on Thursday,
Altria announced that it was
pulling two of its e-cig products
and eliminating all of
its 
flavor offerings except tobacco and menthol until
“the current situation with youth use,” is resolved.

Earlier this year, Juul changed the names of its flavor
offerings. “Cool Cucumber,” for example, is now simply
“Cucumber;” “Creme Brulee” is now “Creme;” and “Fruit Medley” is
now “Fruit.” 

EonSmoke: The most-followed account for Juul products

Importantly, the new study found that the social media blitz
wasn’t all Juul’s direct doing. Beyond Juul’s own Instagram
account, at least seven other accounts that promoted the Juul
collectively amassed more than a quarter million
followers on the platform, the authors wrote. And despite Juul’s
preventive actions over the summer, many of those accounts remain
active in one form or another, Business Insider found.

Online e-cig retailer EonSmoke was the creator of one of the
accounts, called “@Doit4Juul.”

The account asked followers to share selfies, photos, and videos
documenting themselves using Juul devices. And share they did.
Images included youngsters jamming as many Juuls as they could in
their mouths at once and then blowing out massive
plumes of vapor
; children openly using Juul devices in
classrooms; and kids sharing tips on how to sneak the devices
into school by encasing them in the bodies of Sharpie pens.

“This campaign proved highly successful,” the researchers wrote,
noting that the account amassed close to 82,000 followers and
quickly became the most-followed account featuring Juul products
on Instagram as of February 2018.

Over the summer, Juul worked with Instagram to remove the
account, along with at least two others.

But although the official account is gone, the #Doit4Juul hashtag
remains active. Several similar accounts have also sprung up in
recent months across the platform, including one called
“Doingit4Juul” which shows several youngsters in
braces
and even in
classrooms
using the devices.

Using the “#” symbol, anyone with an Instagram account can post
to the series. At present, roughly 7,000 posts exist under the
#Doit4Juul label alone. One of them
features
a young boy in a colorful shirt with a gold plastic
crown on his head inhaling the vapor of two Juuls at once, then
blowing out a large cloud. 

“These kids doing this sh*t,” the post’s caption reads.

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