Branding Challenges Within the E-Liquid Market

Vape_October_2015_WEB_78By Norm Bour

The dictionary defines the word “premium” as “something of exceptional quality or greater value than others of its kind; superior. Usually of higher cost or price.” The adjective is very inexact and begs the question: Who decides what is superior and what is not? The word is highly subjective and open to interpretation, as is beauty in the eye of the beholder.

This is just one of the challenges we face within the explosive e-liquid market. The other concerns the accusations that some e-liquids “pander to the young” and entice them to vape before the age of 18.

The “Premium” Question Premium-grade gasoline is specific, exact and of higher quality than regular unleaded. To be considered premium gas, it must have a 91 octane rating based on the most common testing, called Research Octane Number, or RON. But that is just one of several different calibration methods used, and different countries have their own methods, as well.

Why should we care?

The abuse of the word premium is a problem on two fronts.

One is that when everything is considered “premium,” then none truly is. The other problem is that calling your e-liquid brand “premium” can expose you to legal challenges.

In a recent interview with VAPE Radio, Sarkis Kaladzhyan, president of CalCo Commercial Insurance in Sherman Oaks, Calif., shared the growing number of lawsuits that have become more prolific. Consumer rights’ violations have been entering the vaping industry, and the number-one complaint revolves around the word “premium.” Imagine a customer coming to you and claiming, “I bought your product, which is called premium, rather than a competitor’s line, which is cheaper. I am not happy with that, so I will sue.”

Kaladzhyan said that the customer sometimes feels “misled,” and may decide to go to court over it. Who is drawn into this battle? “Everyone,” he said, “from the retailer, to the distributor to the manufacturer.” The good news is that no plaintiff has won based on these allegations.

We have become a nation of connoisseurs in many areas, and the terms “top quality” or “premium line” have become a contentious topic.

How Do We Define a Premium Product?

Branding exaggerations are part of the process and easily abused. Many industries offer premium or exclusive lines, from wines to computers to automobiles. Is a Mercedes-Benz a premium car? Many would say yes, but a billionaire driving a more expensive Bentley, Maybach or Rolls-Royce might scoff.

There are several key points to determine a quality, premium product:

Rarity: If everyone has access to it and everyone has it, that negates the word “premium.” Automobile manufacturers sometimes issue special- or limited-edition models. The Aston One-77 was the fastest Aston Martin ever made, with a top speed of 220 miles per hour. It was produced from 2009 to 2012, and all 77 models were hand-built. That defines a premium car sold at a premium price.

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Quality: When a Rolex watch is encrusted with top-quality jewels and is not just gold plated, that defines a quality product. The Rolex Ladies Masterpiece White Gold watch is set with 116 diamonds. The case and band are made of 18 carat white gold. It sells for $45,150.

In our world, the silver Caravella mod retails for about $2,000 and is a limited edition of 333 units. It is made from pure silver and defines the rarity and quality requirements. The question is: Will we–should we–pay more for products that are rare and of higher quality?

Aside from the marketing of these products, we need to address the vaping market e-liquid quality issue and adherence to Good Manufacturing Practices (GMP). The American E-Liquid Manufacturing Standards Association (AEMSA) set the benchmark and follows the directions of the Federal Drug Administration (FDA). They were highly vocal in highlighting the now well-known problem of diacetyl, acetyl and propionyl in e-liquids. That problem still exists, but is slowly getting resolved.

For an e-liquid to be called premium, it should have the following characteristics:

All ingredients should be United States Pharmacopeia (USP) verified or use USP ingredients, and should come from a GMP audited facility.

The facilities should be ISO clean and 100 percent particulate free. Premium e-liquids production should use proper standard operating procedures, including

a transition or gowning room. Hair nets and face masks should be used by anyone working with the product.

Is the e-liquid being graded and tested by a high-quality, impartial lab? It should be. Are they using USP grade nicotine and monographs? Ditto.

All labeling should include:

Bar code

Nicotine level

List of primary ingredients

Company information

Warning labels appropriate to federal and state guidelines All e-liquid manufacturing facilities should also carry appropriate liability insurance.

Are E-Liquids Enticing Our Youth?

Of the criticisms thrown at the vaping industry, many focus on underage sale to minors. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) statistics say that the percentage of high schoolers who vape tripled from 2013 to 2014 and reached 13.4 percent of students. But 2014 smoking statistics show that just 9.2 percent are smoking combustibles, down from 12.7 percent the previous year. These are the first single-digit statistics ever reported since they started tracking.

E-liquid companies that copy existing name brands or candy brands are common. Fruity, candy and sugary are acceptable descriptors for various flavors, but others are not. Yummy-sounding names that should be banned include:

Hawaiian Punch

Kool-Aid

SweeTARTS

Gummy Bears

FrootLoops

And cartoon characters, such as Curious George and Papa Smurf. The vaping industry is under attack; let’s not invite more criticism and make our industry look bad. The race to see who can copy the next flavor brand is a lightning rod for controversy.

Fruit flavorings are the number-one vaping category, but there is a difference between vaping strawberry, apple and cherry, compared to vaping flavor names that bring back memories of elementary school.

Is this something you worry about? We want to hear your thoughts for our next issue as we explore this worrisome trend.

Norm Bour is the founder of VapeMentors, which offers online educational programs, services and resources for anyone in the vape space, including vape shops, online stores and e-liquid brands. He’s also host of Vape Radio, a podcast series that interviews the masters of vape and thought leaders in the tape space. Contact him at norm@VapeMentors.com.

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