HNB – the iPhone of Harm Reduction?

Posted 23rd May 2018 by Dave Cross
The Truth Initiative has carried out (what it claims to be) an independent study, looking at the perceptions of heat-not-burn (HNB) product users in Switzerland and Japan. They used The Flamingo Group to help them, a company like defunct Cambridge Analytica that analyses social media content.

The Truth Initiative has been involved in a lot of negative propaganda about vaping, its name often running in contrast to its output. Brad Rodu once wrote about them: “Imprecision, hyperbole and cherry-picked data are the hallmarks of the well-funded and often taxpayer-supported tobacco prohibition movement. In the absence of truth and transparency, public health only suffers.”

Then, at the beginning of May, the organisation was involved in the production of one of the most balanced reports that advocated, “harm minimisation” as part of tobacco control.

What is the Flamingo Group?

Flamingo “is a strategic insight consultancy that harnesses culture to drive change”. In other words, they look at your tweets, Facebook updates and what you post on Instagram. From looking at huge numbers of updates they can generalise trends and attitudes towards certain things.

McDonald's used Flamingo to identify six distinctive spaces of “emotional equity” that it either owns or could own. This now plays a part in the current advertising and public relations strategies. It identified what gamers looked for and aspired to be prior to the Sony PS4 Launch campaign, and it told major news networks (ESI Media, Guardian News & Media, Johnston Press, News UK, Telegraph Media Group and Trinity Mirror) what they should include in their output in order to attract readers, viewers and web clicks.

The study carried by Flamingo collected qualitative data from:

We Vape
  • Expert interviews
  • Semiotic analysis of IQOS packing and marketing materials
  • Focus groups with 68 adults in Switzerland (ages 19–44 years)
  • Focus groups with 68 adults in Japan (ages 20–39 years)

The findings

“The expert interviews suggested that vaping speaks to the freedom space (rebellion, smoke, ‘hackable’ nature of the device and no clear rules), while IQOS would likely sit more in the control space (clean lines, official branding, not ‘hackable’ or flexible in terms of flavour).”

“Analysis of marketing strategies revealed a comprehensive effort to promote IQOS as a sophisticated and aspirational product in both Japan and Switzerland. IQOS promotional efforts centred around presenting the product in a clean, controlled, minimalist environment during invitation-only pop-up events in dedicated spaces. These events introduced the product by employing brand ambassadors to showcase the product and answer questions with free samples. These brand representatives highlighted the sleek, exclusive ‘iPhone’ style and quality of IQOS products, as well as the benefits of reduced ash and odour.”

“Focus group participants in Japan consistently reported IQOS as a clean, chic and pure product, indicating the effectiveness of the marketing strategy.”

Of concern to the vaping community, but probably of no surprise, is that tobacco companies see the HNB technology to be in direct competition with vaping and that electronic cigarettes are on the wane: “Evidence from tobacco industry executives suggests a strong desire and interest in heavily promoting HTPs [heated tobacco product] in order to take advantage of the declining consumer interest in combustible tobacco products and e-cigarettes”. It’s another indication that companies with an interest in HNB might not share the objectives of the independent vaping industry.


 Dave Cross
Article by Dave Cross
Freelance writer, physicist, karateka, dog walker
Grey Haze