My overall feelings about branding used in the vaping industry has changed a lot over the years I have been buying these products. I've come to realise that my own feelings are to a certain extent reactionary, depending on the media attention of vaping itself. When vaping is under attack I feel more strongly towards what I might consider 'unsuitable' branding. When things are more positive, I take a more relaxed view. It's an easy trap to fall into and while I'm usually able to look at something in a balanced way it shows that it's easy to sometimes feel forced into taking a different position. In fact the content of this blog that I'm sat here writing now might not turn out how I envisioned it was going to back when I decided it might be a good topic to talk about many months ago.
At that time there was a lot of negativity towards companies with branding that could be seen as childish or directly targeting children. In fact the biggest vaping stories at that time were about flavour bans for this reason. That argument seems to have thankfully died down from the near hysterical levels it reached. There was no doubt in my mind that some branding crossed a line for my own tastes, but on reflection, it was just that, a matter of taste. Companies are in the business of making money and many adults enjoy nostalgia, if we can buy a bottle of e-liquid that looks and tastes like something we have a nostalgic fondness for, something that reminds us of simpler, happier times, then it will appeal to many adults. It might also bring us some comfort in the difficult times we will go through quitting smoking. Some brands have been highly successful using that exact method, creating a whole nostalgic and a fun image around their branding.
Other e-liquid companies have taken a very different approach, with very classy and adult looking branding. Often these products will come in extra packaging such as fancy boxes or cardboard tubes and other packing materials. I used to really enjoy buying these types of products and it certainly felt special when the parcel arrived in the post, even if the actual taste and vaping experience didn't quite match the classy look! These days I prefer companies that take a cleaner, simpler approach to branding. I don't really want to pay for fancy deluxe packaging that will end up in the bin and I don't care for the childish nostalgia either.
I was talking to a friend of mine in the e-liquid industry about this and he also reminded me that vaping started as a grass roots industry with very small companies. They often didn’t have the money to employ marketing and branding professionals, it was all usually done by themselves. The name, the logo, the image wasn't the creation of a marketing company like it is so often with big brands, they literally designed everything themselves at home on a laptop. This is still the case for many of the smaller liquid companies now and explains why there is such diversity in the industry, people just branded in the way that appealed to them.
One thing that I'm glad to say seems to have almost disappeared completely was the blatant 'Intellectual Property Theft' on some e-liquid branding that used trademarked and copyrighted logos. It looked very bad for the industry when we had huge corporations like Kellogg's and Pepsi sending cease and desist letters to liquid companies for stealing their images and branding... it wasn't one of the industries finest moments, it still frustrates me now when I occasionally see it.
There was talk around the time of the cigarette plain packaging laws that this could also be applied to vaping products. There was a lot of debate in vaping circles about this. I think while it doesn't really matter to established vaping consumers, it would have been a big blow to manufacturers, especially smaller less established brands. It's hard enough to promote and advertise vaping products as it is. The mainstream outlets have been largely shut down as an avenue and at the end of last year Instagram announced a stricter clampdown on the marketing of e-cigarette brands, including a blanket ban on advertisements, following a series of regulations by the UK's advertising watchdog. In a blog post, Instagram stated: "Branded content that promotes goods such as vaping, tobacco products and weapons will not be allowed. Our advertising policies have long prohibited the advertisement of these products, and we will begin enforcement on this in the coming weeks." I find it strange to hear vaping mentioned in the same breath as weapons but it shows the way the industry promotes its brands is still under a lot of scrutiny.
I don't think anyone wants to see masses of new regulations in vaping, and at the moment I don't think the image that e-liquid branding portrays is any worse that what's going on in the alcohol sector. Flavoured craft beers, gins and ciders have never been more popular and diverse and nobody seems to be up in arms over that. The important thing to remember will always be no matter what a vaping product looks like, if it's being used by an adult who used to smoke then that can only be a good thing.
How do you feel about the way e-liquids are branded? Do you think it matters, does it play a role in what you might be willing to buy? I'd be interested to hear your thoughts below...