For St. Patrick’s Day, we examined the existential crisis of marketing beer in 2019, so in honor of 4/20, let’s take a look at how cannabis brands are advertising – or how they should be advertising – within this booming industry… and what powerful corporate influence could mean for the market.
Who better to talk to than David Dancer – the CMO of the world’s biggest cannabis brand, MedMen? While we’re at it, let’s also chat with the #1 Cannabis Law & Compliance firm in California, Manzuri Law! Whether you’re in the cannabis business, or just really enjoy being a cannabis consumer, get ready to feed your head with some awesome info on what it takes to market cannabis in 2019…
First, a little context. After a monumental 2018 for cannabis — with Canada passing full legalization, the first pot company going public on the U.S. stock market, and more U.S. states initiating legalization – the substance is becoming more mainstream than ever. In fact, 2 in 3 Americans (66%) now support legalizing marijuana for recreational use, another new high in Gallup’s trend over nearly half a century. The future is looking green, indeed.
In fact, the global legal marijuana market is expected to reach $146.4 billion by the end of 2025, according to a new report by Grand View Research, Inc. Corporate behemoths like Altria (parent company of Marlboro cigarettes) and Constellation Brands (parent of Corona beer and Svedka vodka) have made multi-billion dollar weed investments – for better or worse.
Certainly, as the CMO of a cannabis brand with a $1.6 BILLION valuation, David Dancer knows a thing or two about this rapidly emerging industry…
GP: Some people might overlook a “basic” detail like brand color, but a lot of thought typically goes into such a decision. What was the intention with choosing a bold red as the brand color for MedMen?
DD: It’s bold and eye-catching, and if you look at dispensaries of the past, many of them take on a more clinical approach or lean into green hues because that’s what cannabis is “supposed” to be. From the beginning, MedMen has set out to create an entirely different experience.
GP: “Faces” and “Forget Stoner” will be forever remembered as helping normalize cannabis for the mainstream. Tell me about the creative process behind these game-changing campaigns.
DD: The “Faces” campaign debuted shortly after recreational use became legal in California. We knew there would be an overwhelming in-store response, but wanted people to understand the significance from a cultural standpoint. We also wanted to get out the clear message: It’s legal. We approached “Forget Stoner” as an opportunity to show people that cannabis users come from all walks of life: young, old, professional etc.. From an officer of the law to a grandmother, cannabis enthusiasts come in all shapes and sizes. This campaign is about universality and breaking down ideas of what individuals think someone who uses cannabis looks like.
GP: As cannabis is legalized in more states, how does MedMen see the consumer demographic shifting?
DD: Today, the gender split is about 60 male / 40 female, though we see future consumers as a more even gender split. While Boomers today are only a 5th of users, we see many more potentially coming into the category; about a 1/3 of potential users. We see significant growth coming from the suburbs, while suburban users are only 43% of current cannabis users, we see them as more than half of potentials. We are absolutely seeing the market expand as cannabis becomes de-stigmatized and product developments make cannabis more accessible.
GP: What is the main challenge with marketing cannabis due to it still being illegal federally? How are you overcoming these challenges?
DD: We’ve recently launched our most expansive and integrated campaign to date – the Spike Jonze directed ‘The New Normal’ campaign. This included spots on connected TV networks, 80+ out of home assets, print ads (including national ad placements in Rolling Stone and US Weekly), Sirius XM, native integrations with Complex, podcasts and terrestrial radio, digital, pre-roll and programmatic ads as well as advertising for the first time in hundreds of movie theaters across California, Nevada, and Michigan.
GP: MedMen was the first to break new ground with advertising cannabis on those mainstream platforms. How did you guys achieve that?
DD: It’s about making in-roads and building relationships. Conde Naste, for example, started with regional insertions and then progressed to national. Previously, we’ve been unable to advertise in certain national publications. Having our latest campaign included in these national outlets was a major step for normalization.
GP: How did you guys hook up with Spike Jonze for “The New Normal?” It’s an incredibly inspiring work of art.
DD: When we were developing the concept for “The New Normal,” we knew we wanted the idea to be conveyed through a cinematic lens, rather than feeling branded. Spike Jonze’s talent for communicating a brand message or idea in commercial film is really important, and we knew he was the ideal person to communicate our message. The entire production of the commercial was a collaborative project involving myself, Spike, Academy-Award nominated cinematographer Bradford Young and production designer James Chinlund, along with actor Jesse Williams.
GP: MedMen has been focusing primarily on educational / lifestyle campaigns. What do you foresee being the next phase of messaging in the near future?
DD: Until cultural stigmas collectively dissipate, we’ll focus on educating people on how cannabis can improve and enrich lives. Whether it’s teaching people how to swap painkillers for tinctures, adding CBD to their health and wellness regime, or helping consumers unwind and relax on the weekends, MedMen’s focus is on making cannabis accessible and shedding light on the many positive aspects of cannabis. Furthermore, we aren’t afraid to make people think about the uncomfortable social and political implications throughout the history of cannabis — acknowledging the injustices of the past is a way for America to move forward to a stigma-free future.
Next up, let’s break down some of the legal implications of marketing cannabis with rockstar attorney Michelle Mabugat, Esq. from Manzuri Law – the #1 California firm specializing in Cannabis Law & Compliance.
GP: So cannabis is legal in certain states, but still illegal federally. Does that mean anyone with a license to sell / distribute in legalized states can advertise their brand like any other business?
MM: Absolutely not! The problem is, the laws are very fragmented. You run into federal illegality, which is always a problem. All the state laws are also fragmented with respect to cannabis: one state legalizes, one is just medical, one is recreational. Conflict between state and federal law always creates a problem down the line. Cannabis can’t be advertised like any other business, so these brands need to be a lot more creative.
GP: Are there restrictions along the lines of alcohol?
MM: There are similarities. In some respects, cannabis is being treated like tobacco, and in others it’s being treated like alcohol. Unlike selling alcohol which is legal across the country for anyone 21 and over, you have to be careful to geo-limit your audience. If you don’t geo-limit, you run into this problem of potentially advertising or promoting the sale of cannabis across state lines, which could draw the ire of the feds.
If you geo-limit your marketing within state lines where cannabis is legal, then the FCC will most likely leave you alone. I’m hoping that in terms of marketing purposes, that down the line cannabis gets treated more and more like alcohol, because when’s the last time you saw a cigarette ad?
GP: Are there any restrictions when it comes to the medium cannabis is marketed in?
MM: No, you can do broadcast, you can do cable, you can do radio, you can do print, you can do digital. The only restriction is you can only display your content where 71.6% of the audience is reasonably expected to be 21 years of age or older – like late-night air segments – and your audience composition and data has to be supported by that.
So technically there’s no restriction regarding the medium, but the catch is getting platforms to accept your ad in the first place. Even if you meet all the requirements, most broadcast and cable companies still don’t want your ad. The main marketing issue for cannabis brands right now is that they have all this money to spend on advertising, but nowhere to spend it.
GP: Has Manzuri Law dealt with any issues specifically related to marketing / advertising cannabis? If so, what kind?
MM: Instagram. Brands, consumers and influencers all love Instagram, but when it comes to cannabis, we see accounts being shut down all the time after they’ve spent all this money building their following. Influencers are scared of promoting cannabis products because they don’t want their own accounts shut down.
With respect to the influencer model, there’s different ways for them to be compensated depending on the KPI. If they get, let’s say a dollar for every product sale that results from their post, they are now considered a “financial interest holder” in that brand. Under California regulations, anytime anyone who makes any kind of money off the sale of cannabis – even if they don’t directly touch the product – they have to be disclosed on licensing applications, and to licensing and regulatory authorities.
Which is problematic because most people don’t think of that. I can’t speak to the specific algorithms Instagram uses to shut down accounts, but brands will be safer if they focus on education and awareness instead of direct sales and promotions, because that’s within the Instagram Terms & Conditions.
GP: When do you think we’ll finally get to see cannabis commercials during the Super Bowl? We almost had one, but CBS chickened out.
MM: Whenever a media company grows some balls and/or it becomes federally legal. Hopefully within the next five years!
While no one can accurately predict when cannabis will be as mainstream as Budweiser, no one can deny that the times they are a-changin’. You don’t have to believe in the Illuminati conspiracy to understand that when corporations see a new way to make endless sums of money, they tend to change the world accordingly. For them, cannabis is the new Gold Green Rush – with infinite opportunity to establish new brands, formulate new products (THC and CBD can be infused in just about any food, beverage or cosmetic you can think of), and engage entire demographics just waiting to be converted.
“Mad Money’s” Jim Cramer sees nothing but growth and acceptance within the market, going so far as saying “Legal marijuana might be the most disruptive force since Amazon.” In fact, his bold prediction is that “By the end of the year (2019), major marijuana brands will be household names… expect a lot of slick marketing campaigns, celebrity endorsements, and anything else that these companies can think of to grab your attention and build a name for themselves.”
How the early innovators within the recently-blackmarket industry will adapt – or be steamrolled – by this New World Order is anyone’s guess. All that we know for sure, is that if you’re 4/20 friendly, it’s a damn good time to be alive.
Alright, that’s enough blogging. Who’s hungry? I think it’s time for…