It’s a smokin’ time for the cannabis industry (no pun intended)—by 2020, the market expects to grow to $19.3 billion. While the industry skyrockets, cannabis companies are searching for ways to be more efficient.
Today we are discussing something a little different. Instead of a brand, today we’re going to be looking at a product that’s just beginning to be marketed widely in the United States…and is, as of today, only legal in a handful of states. We’re talking, of course, about marijuana and today we’re going to focus on how Marijuana marketing is evolving as the question of legality evolves.
Marijuana is completely legal in 11 states, and the District of Columbia. In 31 states Marijuana is legal for medicinal use, and/or has been decriminalized (Typically decriminalization means no arrest, prison time, or criminal record for the first-time possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal consumption. In most decriminalized states, these offenses are treated like a minor traffic violation. And marijuana is still completely illegal in 8 states.
Rarely, if ever, does a product that’s so well known culturally, go from having absolutely no marketing, to being one of the hottest commodities. And the very personality of pot is changing, it seems month to month, before our very eyes. What used to be a huge cultural stigma is now turning into wide acceptance. And with it, comes the need for education and awareness building, as marijuana growers and dispensaries figure out how to take their messaging from ‘on-the-downlow’ to “over the airwaves.”
One of the most interesting aspects of marijuana marketing is that, while pot is legal in 11 states, and mostly legal in another 31, marijuana production and possession is still a federal crime. So what may be legal in your state, is still, technically, illegal nationwide. It’s one of the interesting aspects of the American legal system that something can be both legal and illegal.
And historically states rights have taken precedent in such cases.
Most specifically the federal vs. state difference in marijuana laws has meant confusion over whether federally regulated domains can be used for the purposes of conducting marijuana business. So you have federally insured banks that cannot/will not allow legally operating marijuana businesses to open accounts. You have multi-million dollar businesses unable to have a checking account or put their assets in the bank for safety, and stories of dispensary owners in Colorado carrying around millions of dollars in cash because they can’t put it in the bank.
So – how, and where, is marijuana being advertised? Let’s focus first on the how. How are advertisers choosing to talk about their product in these early stages of national adoption?
Despite pot’s cultural prevalence, a lot of people still don’t actually know much about it. Consumers are still on a huge learning curve about the properties of marijuana (beyond “urban legend” types of information they may have previously got from their dealer). This presents a wide open door for advertisers to educate consumers about their product. In one recent study it was found that across the board (not just in marijuana marketing) consumers are 131% more likely to buy after reading educational content.
And with the huge influx of new consumers – nowhere is that need for education greater than in the cannabis industry.
There’s also the role that CBD (cannabidiol – marijuana’s non-psychoactive sister, that’s been shown to be effective in treating everything from anxiety to childhood epilepsy) has in making consumers more comfortable with the role of marijuana in our recreational and medicinal landscape. It all adds up to a huge opportunity for brands that can find the way to speak to a huge and growing audience. Marketers are learning at this stage that education, not a sales-pitch, is key. And brands are working to shift the narrative from the stereotypical “stoner” consumer to more of a health and wellness, lifestyle message. Have a look at some of the best Cannabis Advertising Campaigns here.
So – we’ve talked about how advertisers are talking about marijuana… what about where they’re talking about it? What are the rules right now?
Again – the rules differ from state to state, and federally. In 2018 a federal bill legalized CBD with little-or-no THC. So we can start there, as an indication of where we are and where marijuana regulation may go in the future. Much like marijuana, the CBD landscape is confusing. There are gummies and edibles, smoking products, oils, and with varying concentrations and statements of purity. Within that complicated landscape, the government and some ad platforms have taken some steps to try to bring clarity to what’s allowed and what’s not.
Outside the world of CBD, The National Association of Cannabis Businesses published a list of guidelines for advertisers. These aren’t laws, but they point to where advertisers are going as the rules are codified. And then finally – there’s a long list of prohibited content – things advertisers shouldn’t do in their ads, read more about it here.
Looking forward, how is the landscape of marijuana marketing likely to change in coming years? In the start, advertisers didn’t know what they could do, or where their ads would be allowed to run. Many took a so-called “spray and pay” strategy- buying whatever they could, posting everywhere they could, and just hoping things would run. That’s changed a little over the years, but not as much as some would have hoped. In the coming years the landscape is likely to change rapidly.
Now we realize how important it is to have a strong organic strategy, being factual, providing educational information and to take the time to do things the right way in terms of ethically marketing your products, whether it’s on the CBD side or THC side…or both.
For more information on this topic, head over to The Marketing Rescue Podcast.