Following increased pressure from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Juul Labs is taking a notably different approach from its ad campaigns of yore—the ones accused of making its e-cigarette products widely appealing to kids. The company unveiled new TV spots this week as part of its “adult education campaign” aimed at enticing adults to “make the switch” from cigarettes to its e-cigs.
“[O]ur success ultimately depends on our ability to get our product in the hands of the adult smokers and out of the hands of youth,” the company said in a statement accompanying the new TV spots. “The new JUUL Labs adult education campaign features testimonials as a continuation of our efforts to educate adult smokers about switching to the JUUL system.”
It is true that the company’s success does in part rely on its ability to comply with FDA demands to get its products out of the hands of teens. Following news of its $12.8 billion deal with Altria, the New York Times last week quoted FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb as saying that the two companies “made very specific assertions in their letters and statements to the F.D.A. about the drivers of the youth epidemic” and that Juul and Altria’s “recent actions and statements appear to be inconsistent with those commitments.”
Gottlieb’s comments indicate the pressure is on for Juul to prove that it is taking serious initiative on that front, even as it slides into business with big tobacco.
Indeed, a New York Times investigation into the company last year found that executives at Juul may have known that teens were a primary driver of its sales as early as 2015. The company has since consistently claimed that it wasn’t the company’s intention to get teens hooked on its products, even if that’s exactly what transpired. And in working with the FDA, the company has recently engaged in several efforts to curb teen smoking, including pulling many of its flavored pods from stores and shuttering some of its social media accounts, among other measures.
To this end, Juul’s “make the switch” TV spots are markedly different from its previous campaigns, which were once colorful, energized, and filled with trendy-looking young people. Its new ad spots are comparatively sober and feature indisputably adult subjects. The message, of course, is still very much predicated on the idea that e-cigs are a better option than cigarettes—a claim that requires far more research into possible long-term effects.
But hey, at least they’re not marketing to kids.