Time Always Tells


Promotions, advertising campaigns push electronic cigarettes to the forefront

By Melissa Kress Associate Editor

In November 2010, I joined Convenience Store News as associate editor to cover three main convenience store categories: malt beverages, packaged beverages and tobacco. Coming from the world of real estate journalism, these areas were completely new to me aside from my perspective as a consumer, so I needed to catch up on the issues surrounding each category.

I quickly learned that there were two major issues to keep an eye out for in the tobacco arena: the menthol debate and the future of electronic cigarettes.

Electronic what? If you asked me at the time, I would have told you smokers would never switch. After all, I have several friends who are long-time cigarette consumers, and I could not imagine them forgoing their packs — and even cartons — for something that looked and felt different.

Fast forward to today, and I can fully admit I was wrong. As CSNews' tobacco editor, I have seen, read and written about the steady increase in the popularity and acceptance of electronic cigarettes. I have also seen the number of e-cigarette exhibitors grow at every winter's Tobacco Plus Expo International. And then, this February, I realized the true impact on the everyday consumer. A close friend who has been a pack-a-day (and sometimes more) smoker for nearly 18 years pulled out an electronic cigarette.

Part of her switch stemmed from pure economics. We live in New York City, where a pack of cigarettes costs more than $12. Another part of her switch came from convenience. My friend is a full-time bartender and with smoking laws as they are, taking frequent cigarette breaks during a busy weekend shift is nearly impossible. One day, she tried an e-cigarette and liked it. Since then, she has started a dialogue with others who have never seen an electronic cigarette, let alone tried one.

That dialogue — whether it originates from the consumer, the retailer or the electronic cigarette makers themselves — is the key to growing this segment in convenience stores.

Such a dialogue recently took place between Murphy Oil USA and 21st Century Smoke, an e-cigarette company. 21st Century Smoke launched a campaign with the convenience store chain in mid-January that offered a small electronic cigarette for 10 cents with the purchase of a carton of cigarettes.

The goal was to reach the consumer who has never tried an electronic cigarette, but does not want to spend $10 for a disposable. "We made it so cheap, they could not pass it up," explained Carlos Bengoa, president of 21st Century Smoke.

Early results indicate the promotion is a success and now 21st Century Smoke is planning to roll out a similar campaign with Circle K Midwest, according to Bengoa.

Promotions are a great first step in starting the dialogue. Many e-cigarette companies are also turning to a wider audience with their advertising efforts. This past fall, Lorillard Inc. took its blu eCigs to the masses with a national television campaign starring actor Stephen Dorff. Logic Technologies has also embarked on a major marketing push, which includes radio spots and signage on 350 taxi cabs in New York City, as well as 200 Logic trucks on the road. The company's radio spots can be heard on three FM stations in the New York City metropolitan area — Z100, Power 105.1 and 103.5 KTU. Logic is also a sponsor of the traffic reports on the AM dial's 1010Wins.

The potential of national advertising is also not lost on Bengoa, who said 21st Century Smoke will be hitting the national airwaves itself this month.

Who knows? Maybe those predictions that electronic cigarettes will outpace traditional cigarettes in terms of consumption in the next decade aren't so crazy after all.

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