Industries often position products to tout the benefits of one category over another — such as the higher-quality, traditional ingredients of a microbrew over mass-produced brewery beer. Researchers suggest that during the past decade, efforts to promote e-cigarettes as a healthier alternative to combustible cigarettes instead backfired, resulting in a product with a reputation as bad or worse than the existing cigarette category.
A review of press releases, news and retail coverage, research, and other documents on e-cigarettes between 2007 and 2018 found that the e-cigarette category of tobacco suffered in reputation over time.
“As the U.S. e-cigarette market has grown and producers have tried to increasingly differentiate from cigarettes, value-based distinctions between the two categories have eroded and social valuations of e-cigarettes as a whole have become increasingly negative,” said Greta Hsu, professor at the University of California, Davis, Graduate School of Management, in her latest research. The paper, “The Double-Edged Sword of Opposition Category Positioning: A Study of the U.S. E-cigarette Category, 2007-2017,” was published today in the journal Administrative Science Quarterly. The article is co-authored by Stine Grodal, professor at Boston University, Questrom School of Business.
Researchers collected more than 1,200 documents from different groups with interests in e-cigarettes, including producers, retailers, financial analysts, government and public health officials, and anti-tobacco organizations. They also conducted interviews with policymakers, public health advocates and industry leaders and analyzed over 2,000 abstracts of research