Influencer marketing also means working with celebrities, who can do a lot to remove the lame-product stigma. Matthew Perry has become an investor. Guy Oseary, Madonna’s manager and an investor in Vita Coco, was unhappily the son of two smokers, and he cold-called NJOY and ended up an investor, too, bringing Seth Rodsky along with him. They, in turn, began fielding feelers from stars. Slash was among those interested, but he could be problematic: He very publicly supposedly quit smoking in 2009. The right kind of celebrity would be one who could thread the needle of selling something new without its seeming newfangled, of selling a kind of smoking that was also not a kind of smoking, of selling something that had an implicit health appeal without ever making it explicit. Then, in early December, Courtney Love tweeted to her daughter: “but am trying these new e-cigs, the @NJOYecigs so far are the best ones ive tried. Maybe they should pay us for this plug?”
Two weeks after the Duckie Brown show, Love, clad in expensive leather pants, is standing in a conference room in Scottsdale, acting out a couple of her most recent smoking altercations for Beaver and Samonte. In September, she was in the bathroom during intermission at the Metropolitan Opera’s season opener at Lincoln Center. “And look,” Love says. “I don’t give a fuck. I’m going to get shit at in the bathroom by some of the ladies. It’s just going to happen. And I was wearing my big Marchesa ball gown, I’m doing my face—da da da da da—with my cigarette on the sink, as always. Okay, that’s how I do it. Whether it’s a lawyer’s office or this meeting or whatever. You can get a huge billboard of paparazzi shots of me grabbing a cigarette. But in this case, I was at the opera, and I put the cigarette on the sink. And I believe Patti Smith came in as well, ’cause she’s a huge opera fan. I can’t say I am, particularly this opera, but this was Lincoln Center, the Met, opening night, it was a big deal, and one woman came in and said, you know, da da da da da, ‘That really stinks,’ and I just ignore it and keep smiling. And then Patti was like, ‘Courtney, people aren’t going to forgive you forever.’ Patti Smith. You know, my soul. Patti Smith, my soul.”
A month and a half later, at a screening for the rock documentary Beware of Mr. Baker with André Balazs and Kick Kennedy, Love was once again doing her cigarette-on-the-sink routine, only this time it was an NJOY King. And when a woman walked in, with a child, and “starts bitching at me, I’m like, ‘This is a choice, this is not a cigarette.’ And she grabbed it and goes, ‘Yes it is.’ And I’m like”—Love dramatically exhales, as if in the woman’s face—“ ‘Not.’ ”
Love is here to talk about a possible deal with NJOY. She feels that already, from reducing her regular-cigarette usage, she’s recovered chunks of vocal range destroyed by smoking. On a recent song she recorded, “California,” “I was able to bring in my Stevie voice and hit a higher note than I’ve been able to hit in years. It’s really making me think about quitting. For the first time in my life.” (A cursory Internet search turns up several interviews, dating back as far as the nineties, in which Love is in the process of quitting or vowing to quit soon.) “And it’s giving me hope. Now I’m going to be hopelessly addicted to nicotine, so then there’s going to be that.”
“You already are,” Beaver points out.
Affiliating with Love would be just one limb of a many-tentacled influencer strategy, which itself is only one of several marketing components. In a few weeks, the company will buy the rights to a paparazzi shot of Dave Navarro smoking an NJOY. A nascar deal is not far off. Love, though, is a surprising, elegant way of introducing Kings to not just hipsters but middle-aged women, too. Her rock and movie and fashion cred, her indifference to indoor-smoking etiquette, and her history of public self-immolation and candor add up to a brand that stands for rebellion and self-reinvention, an oddly compelling fit for electronic cigarettes. “These women see their struggle in your struggle,” Beaver tells Love later.
Now she suggests she could sit outside the Mercer Hotel, which she does a lot anyway, but smoking NJOY Kings instead of her usual Marlboro Golds. “It’s not shilling, it’s kind of showing a different thing,” she says, clicking an NJOY case open and shut like it’s a Zippo. “Make it look as cool as Bette Davis.”
She and Beaver and Samonte brainstorm a viral video re-creating her opera moment. “What could be really funny is we do a reveal,” Beaver says. “Beautiful dress, beautiful hair … and then you turn around, and it’s Courtney Love. You say, ‘It’s not a cigarette, it’s an NJOY.’ ”
“But lots of chiffon,” Samonte says. “Lots of chiffon.”
“That’s a true story,” Love says. “That happened. I mean, not exactly that way. We were more like, ‘Fuck you.’ But ‘Relax, it’s an NJOY’ is much more mellow.”
Love likes that. “I’ve been only going out in the best clothes and really, really working a kind of more conservative angle. ’Cause I’m so sick of the bloody controversy. I’m over it. I’m 48, and I’m done.”
She practices “Relax, it’s an NJOY,” first regally, then as a bark. “Relax, it’s a fucking NJOY … No, sorry, that’s not going to work.” She tries it again, softly.
“I like the calm, relaxed Courtney Love,” Beaver says.
Love sings an opera high note.
And when, two months later, a digital ad featuring Love telling a symphony matron “Relax, it’s a fucking NJOY” surfaces on YouTube, it receives more than 200,000 views in its first week.