“Can I get a hit?”: The Genius Marketing Behind the Outbreak of a “Mystery Lung Illness”

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“Can I get a hit?”: The Genius Marketing Behind the Outbreak of a “Mystery Lung Illness”

In the midst of a clear outbreak of illness not even the Center for Disease Control and Prevention can identify, thousands of vapers across the country, teenagers and adults alike, are becoming increasingly worried about what is causing the intense lung illness that has occurred in almost 200 patients as of now. Although it is not clear about what exactly in different products is causing the illness, it is quite clear that the culprit is vaping. Many cases according to the CDC have reported both usage of nicotine vaping products and THC vaping problems. Although at this moment it is impossible to discuss why exactly these illnesses are occurring, the root cause, vaping, and its upbringing in an anti-smoking American society can be analyzed.  

The large e-cig brands that at this point in time almost every American knows and hates, such as JUUL, are not being put at fault for the illnesses. That is not to say, however, that they are not the root cause of the problem. Many media outlets are claiming the culprit is black market, homemade, and fake products which users are buying online and off the street. This blog is by no means an analyzation of the medical aspect of this problem, but it is a discussion of the extremely efficient, interesting, and quite genius marketing tactics that counterfeit vape products use to attract people into buying the products.

A consistent and evident tactic used by many producers is some sort of self-legitimation. The THC vape cartridge producers have nearly mastered the art of self legitimation through professional presentation and distribution strategies along with consistent and extremely presentable social media presence. Gone are the days of having to find a phone number from a kid in school–now a simple Instagram message allows anyone, anywhere, to get their hands on potent products that are affordable. 

Sites such as Ali Baba provide un-licensed manufacturers with extremely affordable cartridges that either mimic popular vape brands such as KingPen, or, almost comically, use popular brand names such as Nintendo or Supreme on the boxes. New counterfeit companies have even surfaced, one of the most common being Dank Vapes. This means almost anyone, anywhere, can fill up a cartridge with any substance and most likely get away with it. 

Within the counterfeit vape industry, the self-legitimization of the different “brands” works like a well-oiled machine.  At the bottom of the industry ladder, where the scheme starts, are the distributors of the packaging and empty cartridges. Because the distributors only sell a handful of different brand’s packaging, the sheer number of each brand released into the industry allows the names to be thrown around more often, rather than having thousands of different brand names being released. Climbing up the ladder is the material producer and the production of the product itself. Although the products are not all coming from the same producer, it seems as though they do because of their identical packaging, making the brand look as though they produce commercial levels of their product. If someone happens to buy a cartridge from an experienced producer and it is satisfactory, the consumer will, in turn, relay the high quality of the cartridge brand to fellow smokers. Somewhere in the mix of the material producers and the people who sell the product to consumers, whether they are different people or the same person, social media accounts are utilized to further spread the brand name and increase the brand’s and dealer’s sales. At the top of the ladder is the consumer, who may tell others about the brand or post something to their own media accounts. 

Using Instagram tags as an example, #mariocarts displays 10.5 thousand posts alone, #dankvapesofficial boasts 44 thousand posts, and #supremecarts has 15.9 thousand posts. With so many people posting and talking about the product, it would be quite hard to learn the brands are counterfeit without further research.

The industry has also acquired a sharp knowledge for individual product marketing. Once again, it is almost positive none of the counterfeit products have been regulated or evaluated by an expert, but that doesn’t stop Dank Vapes from proclaiming on the packaging that, “Sunset sherbert exhibits powerful full-body effects elevated by a jolt of cerebral energy.” The blurb goes on to say, “Stress, tension, and sour moods melt away with the carefree mindset and physical relaxation that comes with this rich hybrid.” 

At the end of the day, for the quality of the products produced, the marketing is impressive. A strong presence on social media is a driving factor in the counterfeit vape industry’s success as the tactful media accounts further “legitimize” the illegitimate businesses.