At a time when cigarette consumption is in long term decline in this country, e cigarettes present a new and untapped market.

For the first time in years we have seen smoking advertised on TV, albeit it in a new and updated guise, one that is touted as less harmful, more sociable and even less expensive. Brands such as Vype, Njoy and E Lites have been quick to go down a route that has been closed to their non electronic counterparts for years.

According to the British Medical Journal, UK advertising and promotional spending on related smoking materials, including e cigarettes increased from f1.7m in 2010 to f13.1m in 2012. In 2013, British American Tobacco spent f3.6m in just two months to promote Vype.

Regulatory framework

The regulatory framework in the UK remains relatively open for e cigarettes, so while the government ponders how it will regulate the market, the timing is ripe for brands to entrench customer loyalty. But with more marketing heat than light to guide the way, this is easier said than done.

At the moment there is little to differentiate the advertising of the various players in the market. It is bland, generic and fairly forgettable hardly money well spent. Classic tobacco advertisers became expert at skirting the increasingly restrictive advertising rules, but what should not be forgotten is that they also created powerful brands that could outlive these strictures.

Think of Silk Cut and its flash of purple, and Marlboro s iconic cowboy. Advertising played a role, but they already were powerful brands in their own right.

Think of Silk Cut and its flash of purple, Benson & Hedges gold box ads, and Marlboro s iconic cowboy. Advertising played an important role in supporting these brands, but they already were powerful brands in their own right. By the time the shutters came down on TV, they had established powerful equity among smokers.

Can today s e cigarettes make a similar claim? I doubt it.

Advertising has its place, but in an emerging market where trade distribution remains a key battle, e cigarette players are putting all of their eggs in one basket. Patchy distribution is skewing consumer choice so when an advertised brand is unavailable in store, there is little brand loyalty built up with consumers to prevent them simply picking up another brand.

Manufacturers risk advertising the sector rather than their own brands via an ATL only approach. They need to take a step back and heed the lessons of history brand first, advertising second. They must create their own iconic brands that will stand the test of time, should regulations restrict their ability to promote themselves.

This means setting out to build an intimate brand relationship with their audience at the right moment. To truly connect, brands need to close the physical and emotional space between themselves and the consumer and the best way to that is through allowing them to really experience the brand through sampling.

Moments of truth

At Space, we focus upon the three key “moments of truth” in the relationship between brand and consumer

1 When they experience a brand first hand

2 When they buy a brand

3 When they talk about a brand, hopefully in a positive light given the “recommendation age” in which we now live, where social sharing is a critical part of the next consumer s experience of a brand.

The savviest e cigarette brands will ensure that they are sampling the brand, not the category. Rather than take a scattergun approach brands will need to focus on careful targeting. That means smart bombing key geographies at key periods. Brands have to test and learn quickly what works best and build this learning into a flexible approach to work around emerging restrictions.

In this dynamic market brands can t afford to overinvest in any one communication channel. Advertising will have a role to play but it will work best when allied to a more nuanced approach that acknowledges the importance of really creating an intimate direct relationship based on a tangible experience.

E cigarette brands have an exciting opportunity to ignite the aforementioned three key moments of truth in the brand consumer relationship, but they will need to think beyond the moment to create impact over time. Experiential, promotional, shopper and digital marketing in particular offer tangible points of access to persuade people to build long term brand intimacy.

This way lies brand loyalty and not a fleeting relationship that will disappear in a puff of smoke.

Marijuana entrepreneur plans $100 million ‘marlboro of weed’ brand with irreverent ad

Cheap tax-free european capri cigarettes

It looks like the kind of late night commercial meant for people taking bong rips between “Family Guy” reruns. To a Seattle weed entrepreneur, however, the two minute ad above is the first step toward building a $100 million marijuana empire.

Brian Laoruangroch, 29, is president of Prohibition Brands, a company that wants to mass produce marijuana cigarettes and cigars and sell them as a standardized product. The company is little more than an idea at the moment, but Laoruangroch is telling potential investors he envisions his brand as the marijuana version of a Marlboro cigarette.

In the commercial, Laoruangroch takes on the guise of a stereotypical cowboy to woo financiers. Aided by two skimpily clad female models and a puppet horse, he discusses the green rush of investment in marijuana.

I thought that the two most important things for an ad were to make something comical, number one, and number two, it s no secret that sex sells, Laoruangroch told The Huffington Post. So we found two really comical girls and a really sexy cowboy.

Laoruangroch said he owns intellectual property that covers the design specifications for a filtered marijuana cigarette. He said he hopes to turn that, along with a polished website and a personal pitch, into at least $5 million worth of investment before the end of the year.

A screenshot from Prohibition Brands’ website

Anyone who has met me or dealt with me in business would tell you that I m an absolute genius, Laoruangroch said, comparing himself to late Apple CEO Steve Jobs. I come from a background of having an idea and executing a physical product from an idea and that s what s relevant and needed in the marijuana market.

In paperwork filed with the Securities and Exchange Commission announcing his intent to solicit investors, Laoruangroch noted he has no current means to produce, distribute or sell marijuana cigarettes, and is not versed in similar markets like alcohol or tobacco. He also makes clear that investors would be putting their money in a company that intends to violate federal law prohibiting marijuana sale and possession. Those facts notwithstanding, Laoruangroch s business plan states that, with appropriate funding, products would be fully developed and ready to market by Dec. 1. The business would rely on first mover advantage and brand loyalty to succeed, according to the securities filing.

For us, it s really important to be number one, Laoruangroch said.

While there is a rush of investment into companies that deal with marijuana indirectly, such as smoking gadget manufacturers and gardening equipment suppliers, Laoruangroch s company is one of the few soliciting investors that expects to actually touch the plant. A Washington entrepreneur, Jamen Shively, made waves earlier this year when he announced he was raising funds to start a chain of recreational cannabis retailers.

Marijuana was legalized by voters in Washington state and Colorado last year. Regulators in those states will permit retail level sales of the drug from early next year. The plant remains illegal under federal law.

Prohibition Brands wouldn t be the first business Laoruangroch has worked on. While still a senior in college, the young entrepreneur founded Green Mobile, to help people recycle used cellphones. At first a website, the business soon turned into a booth at a mall, then a retail location, and then a chain of stores, Laoruangroch said.

Laoruangroch said that besides his experience, he has a penchant for risk taking and irreverence that he believes will translate into success in the budding marijuana industry. Laoruangroch has been arrested several times over the past decade on charges that include having a fake ID and possessing a small amount of marijuana. He was charged with grand theft auto last year, he said, after failing to return a rental vehicle on time.

That s really been my fearlessness, ever since I was a kid, that the police don t really scare me too much, Laoruangroch said, I bring that extraordinary view to the table.

And I want to say this to the federal government if they read this, when they read this, Laoruangroch said, “Mr. Obama, if you want to be a hypocrite and arrest me for selling marijuana, I ll come to the White House myself with the handcuffs already on. There s no need for guns.”

As for the commercial his company has produced, and a publicity stunt he said he has in the works where he ll attempt to roll a joint containing 2.2 pounds of marijuana, Laoruangroch said, I know that a lot of people don t want to hear that I m going to be advertising, but I m going to be doing it.