The Advertising Standard Agency (ASA) dealt a significant blow to a prominent UK e-cigarette company by banning a recent advert that took advantage of the phrase ‘kicks butt’ to advertise its products. The agency ruled that while Nicolites was within its rights to enter a sponsorship deal with the Birmingham City Football Club and advertise accordingly, the ‘kicks butt’ campaign amounts to deceptive advertising.

The ASA maintains the ad implies electronic cigarettes are a smoking cessation device. In their defence, Nicolites claims the campaign was nothing more than an effort to capitalise on its association with the popular football club. Nowhere in the advert does the company make explicit claims about smoking cessation.

It should be noted that the Nicolites ad campaign is very similar to a legitimate ‘kick butt’ stop smoking campaign, leading the ASA to believe there could be some confusion among consumers. For that reason, they ruled the ad could no longer appear in its current form.

Sport and E-Cigarettes

The disagreement between the ASA and Nicolites comes as no surprise given that electronic cigarette advertising is still in its infancy. It will take a while for advertisers to fully understand what will be allowed and what will not. Until that day comes, we can expect to see more incidents like this one. We can also expect more e-cigarette companies to look to secure sponsorship deals with football clubs and other sports teams and outlets.

Sports is a powerful advertising medium due to the tendency of fans to become very loyal to their teams and anything associated with them. That is one of the reasons a sponsorship deal with a football club is so lucrative. Companies like Nicolites will find ways to make sponsorship deals work as long as the law allows them to, even if that means pushing the boundaries from time to time.

What’s not clear is how far sports teams and venues will go with sponsorship deals. Last spring, a Manchester City fan was banned from attending future games after using his electronic cigarette during a match. City staff apparently thought he was smoking a real cigarette, leading them to haul him into the security office before removing him from the venue. The club then rescinded his season ticket for a perceived violation of the club’s anti-smoking policy.

Fortunately, the fan appealed the club’s ruling, which was eventually reversed. His a season ticket was reinstated and he once again enjoys taking in Manchester City matches whenever they are at home. However, he will no longer be using his electronic cigarette during those matches.

Figuring out the Future

With the electronic cigarette industry now a multi-billion pound revenue generator, it is unreasonable to think e-cigarettes and the companies that make them are not going away anytime soon. From Skycig to Vapestick, there are companies too solidly entrenched in the industry to simply walk away. Clubs like Birmingham City and Manchester City are going to have to figure out how to make this work if they want to participate in lucrative sponsorship deals.

For clubs to ban vaping at sporting events simply because it might be confusing does not seem to make a whole lot of sense. Electronic cigarettes are no longer new and novel, and many do not even look like tobacco cigarettes anymore. It is now pretty clear when someone is vaping, as opposed to smoking, to anyone who is actually paying attention. It doesn’t seem it would be that difficult to continue enforcing the public smoking ban while leaving vaping alone.

In the meantime, Nicolites has no choice but to abandon the ‘kicks butt’ campaign and come up with something new. They undoubtedly will. They will find a new angle that will enable their company and Birmingham City to continue enjoying the mutual benefits of their sponsorship deal.

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