Cannabis Marketing: Transforming Uncertainty Into Creativity

EVERYONE complains about the fragmented state of cannabis marketing...

By
Dave Barton
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EVERYONE complains about the fragmented state of cannabis marketing...

EVERYONE complains about the fragmented state of cannabis marketing. And for good reason: the rules around it totally 👏 suck 👏 a*s 👏!  

Depending on where in the world you are –  and the legality of CBD, medical, and recreational cannabis chez toi – the on- and offline channels available to us marijuana marketing mortals each appear to have their own unique flavor of obscure obstruction. 

Creativity By Committee

From Instagram bans and Facebook being a non-starter; to Google bud-blocking anything that ‘alters mental state (sic) for the purpose of recreation’ – the rules in place are at best nebulous, and at worst, prohibitive. And that’s before we even get into non-digital marketing – packaging, out-of-home, and broadcast ads (though the tide is turning) – along with health claim avoidance, keeping kids at bay (both legit concerns BTW), and… whatever else regulators want to throw at the sector.

The result of such watering down from a marketing perspective is reciprocal: we end up a hotch-potch of anodyne efforts designed to satisfy all of the above. Or, in other words, we get ‘Creativity By Committee’ – which is always terrible.

Impact x Consistency = Longevity

So what’s a cannabis marketer to do? Well, it’s simple really: they need to push against the boundaries of advertising acceptability; while remaining authentic, on-brand, and engaging (!).

Ok, ok – easier said than done. But, as my esteemed colleague posited in a recent blog, brand building can take many different forms. And while the easiest thing to do – especially if you want a direct or short term response – is to switch out sassy socials for highly-effective, but ultimately less sexy channels like email and SMS; as we all know in marketing, loyalty lies in the long game. It lies in being remembered. And if you want to be remembered, you need to do something memorable. 

However, memorability doesn’t solely rest with BIG ideas. It’s found in consistency – as well as impact. Creating an impact should always run in tandem with efforts aligned to a roadmap that slowly unravels. This is why social media is thought of as the marketing Holy Grail; it enables both. 

But there are so many more amazing ways to hit the longevity sweet spot. Content marketing for one manifests in many different guises: blogs, case studies, whitepapers – and hell, why not, while we’re in the neighborhood – videos, podcasts; documentaries even. If you can write or record something, then you sure as heck should entertain creating content that’ll get your target audience engaged.

Speaking of finding your audience, there are also stacks of dedicated, niche and private communities that champion cannabis – spread right across platforms like reddit, Discord, and Telegram. If finding your ‘people’ is half the battle, then these are great places to seek out the like minded.

Another emerging area of interest to cannabis marketers is Web3: the use of decentralized digital assets to build, create, and incentivize niche communities. In particular, NFTs (Non Fungible Tokens) are being used to creatively brand build outside of the mainstream’s purview – like this new endeavor from FLWRS

Though admittedly, there are lots of gimmicks that may (or may not) stay the distance; one thing that’s perhaps more important in cannabis than in any other sector is authenticity. In terms of trading on a legacy – which is often the cornerstone of brand authenticity – in cannabis there is none. At least none that has been co-opted into the mainstream before. It’s still the Wild West out there. Or a scramble, at least.

Smart Cookies

That said, it’s the savvy bud brand that manages to navigate the choppy waters of the legacy market’s transition into a legal one. Like (and apols for being so bloody obvious) Cookies; whose slick, tidy, street visuals connote an ‘edge’ instead of outright debuting adorned with ganja leaf motifs. 

However, scaling with an implied meaning is dangerous territory where cannabis is concerned. Cookies jefe, Berner, makes no attempt to shy away from his legacy sector involvement; and cultural associations with the hip hop world and work as a musician firmly root his authenticity and dedication to the cannabis cause. 

Few of us can leverage that, alas. But even Cookies has come under fire for supposedly flaunting the rules. Recent criticism over a mural decorating the outside of Cookies’ NYC store alleges that this could be seen as contravening state laws against advertising marijuana, have been quelled by Berner and co. as the store will only sell clothing and other apparel, alongside accessories and legal CBD products. For now.

I believe these are EXACTLY the kind of bold moves that all cannabis brands should be making. It’s pushing the boundaries in the precise manner they need. But you don’t need to be on the cover of Forbes to be making moves this audacious. Nuh-uh. You just need to find ways to call out the rules in a way that works for your brand. And if nothing else, remember that – as Cookies does so adeptly – criticism can easily be turned into effective PR.

thermidor< is a content-led, cannabis-focused, creative agency. We work with B2B, B2C, and D2C brands to develop messaging, brand, and tone of voice, as well as create written, audio, and visual content such as blogs, whitepapers, podcasts, and event films.

Blog Author
Dave Barton
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