E-Lites: Smoking reinvented or branding recycled?

As I was flicking through the newspaper on the plane the other week, a print ad for E-Lites stopped me in my tracks. I am not a smoker, or a reformed smoker, but the ad stood out for me, and I wanted to analyse it a bit more to understand why.


The E-lites brand position themselves as the champions of ‘self belief’.  It is done in a way that portrays the audience as independent, self-sufficient and autonomous. Masters of their own destiny. Interestingly, this can be thought of as a return to many of the positive attitudes and ideals that surrounded smoking at the middle of last century. The idea of a rebel, a leader, someone who is separate from others and self-sustaining. The idea of emancipation.  This sheds light on some of conventions of their executions. The lone person that faces a grand outdoor landscape they must contend with is very much symbolic of independence and self sufficiency.

Tonally, they mix the inspiring, grand and almost herculean, with the tongue-in-cheek. What this allows them to do is to use highly aspirational scenes, yet make them feel attainable. They can be within reach, with a bit of self-belief (and your E-Lites).

I think that one of the reasons that this campaign stopped me is that a smoking cessation brand is framing itself in this way. Aligning itself with an attitude of self-belief. Paying homage to its users, rather than playing their saviour. The idea is reminiscent of this work by Nike.

But go a bit deeper, and there is actually one particular cultural reference point that this ad draws upon, albeit in a very inconspicuous manner. There are unquestionable similarities between the narrative of this advert and that of the iconic Marlboro man campaign from the mid 1950s; a campaign which is credited as the origin of many of the positive cultural ideas around smoking.

classic Malboro ad

E-Lites has done well in not missing a trick here. It is essentially the enemy of smoking, yet has tapped into its very origins, and deep rooted, sub-conscious ideals surrounding it.

The long standing Marlboro Man campaign conjured up and established the image of the rugged, outdoor, independent man who thinks for himself, lives his own life and does his own thing. It was a success and Phillip Morris themselves even acknowledged “post-adolescent kids beginning to smoke as a way of declaring their independence from their parents”.

At first glance it seems like a brand which is carving out a completely new territory; championing and empowering smokers in their quest to give up. Yet, they’re actually fitting into an already established territory in the minds of consumers.

The similarities between these brands are perhaps even more apparent when it comes to their visual identities.

E-lites-Packet marlboro-red-cigarettes

Sales of e cigarettes are on fire (excuse the pun). It is estimated that sales in the UK will be worth £339m by 2015.  This is one of the most hotly discussed and debated issues in advertising (excuse the second pun). Will the promotion of e cigarettes indirectly glamourise or normalise cigarettes?

Although there is still a lack of extensive empirical research on the product’s ability to help people give up smoking, they clearly hold an appeal over existing nicotine treatments that do not address a crucial aspect of cigarette use: the cues that prompt smoking.

E-lites have clearly found a differentiated positioning territory for the brand, but is their advertising sailing as close to the cigarette winds as their product itself?

McQ Thinking is a boutique brand and communication consultancy that partners with the marketing and advertising communities. Find out more at www.mcqthinking.com.

One thought on “E-Lites: Smoking reinvented or branding recycled?

  1. Megan Kent

    This is a fascinating post Maria! Essentially you are asking if E-lite is attempting to attract smokers who want to quit by subconsciously conjuring up similar tonal cues to Marlboro – the very ad that may have contributed to their smoking in the first place? “Fight fire with fire” as they say? Incredibly insightful observation – I think you might be on to something here!!!


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