September 23, 2019

PARK | How to Make the Juul Uncool

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Dear Juul Labs,

Oh no! Your cool, sleek, highly addictive flash drive of fun has gotten a generation hooked on nicotine and one step closer to death. And now everyone, including Walmart, the President, New York State and China, is sick of your shit. Who would have thought?

Certainly not you, who launched the Juul with a “patently youth-oriented” campaign with young models and influencers in a social media frenzy. You, who hired lobbyists and increased political spending to the millions after a study concluded that teens are 16 times more likely to Juul than adults. You, who became the fastest start-up to become a decacorn in the same year the NIH witnessed the largest increase in teen use of any substance in history.

Why did you do all this? Because, of course, you only wanted Juuls to be a means for nicotine addicts to make the switch from cigarettes. Why else would you go to classrooms across the country to tell students that Juuls are “totally safe” before the science was in and launch a full lineup of flavors? Everyone knows that hardcore cigarette addicts could not even imagine getting their nicotine fix without the freshness of a mint or sweet creme brûlée flavored cloud.

I’m so sorry, it’s so unfortunate that entirely unintentional actions outside of your control resulted in one of the most successful, accidentally detrimental marketing campaigns, giving rise to a health crisis that vilified you in the eyes of the general public.

How could you have possibly known that your product would single-handedly reverse the greatest decline in domestic smoking to create what The Atlantic called a “mango-flavored trolley problem”. Fail to act and continue to foster youth nicotine dependency; regulate the Juul too intensely and lose an opportunity to get regular smokers off cigarettes.

So what is there to do?

I saw the action plan you rolled out last November — the one that made such sweeping changes including shutting down your Instagram and reducing flavored pod sales. It’s cute. But if you’re going to change the psyche of the Tide-pod generation, you’re going to have to do a little more than add a box on your website that says “Are you 21?”

If you’re going to make a real difference in stopping the crisis you caused or even if you’re covering your ass, you’re going to have to do better than that; you’re going to have to make the Juul uncool. It’s going to take a millenial or gen-Z-er to get you out of this mess. This is where I step in.

Marketing

You claim Juuls were intended for an older demographic, but could you imagine watching your grandma taking fat, mango-flavored rips in the middle of her weekly bridge club? I don’t think so. It’s time to reestablish your target clientele.

You can begin by bringing back your social media presence with full force. But instead of filling your feeds with cool, young influencers, present a lineup of exclusively middle-aged and elderly brand ambassadors who’ve used Juul to wean off cigarettes.

In fact, if the mission of Juul Labs is truly to cure the disease of cigarettes, then start treating your product like an antidote. Take cue from Viagra, and start advertising Juul like a drug. Switch to TV ads with elderly people playing with dogs and running through fields.

Design

Any device small and sleek enough to allow us to take hits unnoticed in the back of class while blowing the smoke into our sweatshirts is a problem. I’d recommend launching an entirely new product version that looks like a floppy disk instead of a flash drive. Instead of pairing it with a tiny charger that fits into a laptop, this version should be connected by a cord to a battery pack that only runs on AA batteries.

Consumer Experience 

Juuls are far too accessible to youth. In order to cut down on accessibility, eliminate online sales entirely. Rather, sell Juuls exclusively at malls and only accept payment in cash. Make each Juul consumer sign up for emails and allow Juul to post for them on Facebook.

An 18 or 21 year-old age requirement? That’s too easy to get around with fakes. Instead, have them answer a unique riddle with each pod that they can’t use their phone to answer (i.e. What is a Roth IRA? Who ran against the first Bush? How do you turn on your home’s television?)

Features

Since impending lung cancer doesn’t seem to be enough of a disincentive for young Juulers, it’s time to tap into our collective self-obsession with the new product version launch. This new version could be a social media Russian roulette of new functions.

Every time you take a hit, one of the following will occur: you reshare one of your old Facebook posts, you screenshot the Snapchat story of the person you’ve been stalking the most, you randomly like an Instagram post of one of your followers from at least a year ago, your Airpods lose all charge or one of your Instagram posts loses all its likes, but can’t be deleted.

This will allow us to balance our self-absorption with our nicotine absorption to test if we care more about the decay of our online presence of the decay of our lungs. And if none of this works — well then maybe we deserve what’s coming to us.

Sarah Park is a senior in the School of Industrial and Labor Relations. She can be reached at sarahpark@cornellsun.com or likely somewhere in Libe Cafe. Spark Notes runs every other Monday this semester.