In a world where cannabis is being legalized across the United States, how do marketers go about tapping into this industry? According to AdWeek, the value of the cannabis market is expected to reach nearly $40 billion by the year 2023. How do brands go about establishing themselves in an industry as brand new as legal marijuana, especially as the lines between medical and recreational use blur? Additionally, the medical marijuana market flooded in such a short amount of time, it’s hard for brands to make themselves stand out. Several important considerations must go into the marketing of marijuana, or sellers could risk not only tarnishing their brand and having their license to sell revoked. Laws surrounding the use and distribution of cannabis are constantly changing and vary state by state.
Naturally, medical marijuana is a highly regulated industry. On top of this, marijuana, for any use, is still illegal on the federal level. Additionally, dispensaries have to compete with unauthorized sellers. This, coupled with the extensive list of marketing regulations that cannabis dispensaries must follow, makes establishing a brand in the industry particularly challenging. However, it’s not impossible.
Traditional marketing seems to be the best avenue for cannabis brands that wish to claim a stake in the industry. Platforms such as Google and Facebook do not allow drug or drug-related advertisements on their websites. As Google and Facebook are two companies that control the majority of American digital advertising, cannabis brands have no choice but to focus on blogs and newsletters in addition to print, radio, billboards, and broadcast media. However, these traditional mediums also come with their own set of rules and regulations regarding cannabis. Even in places where weed, both medicinal and recreational, are 100 percent legal, there are strict marketing practices in place. Navigating the world of marijuana marketing is so tedious, there are firms dedicated solely to clientele in the cannabis industry.
What does this leave marketers with? For starters, marketers for medical marijuana have to educate their consumers rather than sell to them. For example, people who have never used cannabis will have questions regarding the drug. These questions include dosage, price, potential for overdose, interactions with other medications or substances (such as alcohol), legality, and level of impairment (such as the ability to drive). Brands educate their consumers by way of downloadable graphics, informative YouTube videos, newsletters, and social media posts. Contrast this with promotional material for alcohol, that show people getting wasted at the bar or on the beach. Cannabis brands have to be much more conscious of their image in an industry where the product is highly stigmatized by the general public and has been illegal in this country for decades.
Marketers for the cannabis industry must stay up to date with all the legal changes surrounding the sale of the product. And with all the possible legal ramifications and restrictions on what marketers can and can’t promote, they still have to find ways to reach their target audience within those parameters. This means brands have to get extra creative in order to be noticed and stand out to consumers. Examples of this include, meeting customers face-to-face and sharing science-backed news and information about cannabis on their social media platforms. Another effective way of advertising cannabis is to focus on the stigma surrounding the product, rather than trying to sell the product. The “Forget Stoner” campaign by MadMen – the dispensary, not the television show – takes a look at real people who smoke cannabis, to dismantle the stereotypes surrounding these individuals.
Not only does marketing medical marijuana have legal implications, there are also social considerations. Marketers have to be aware of who might have access to their content, specifically children. Additionally, they must be respect the negative connotations surrounding cannabis use and be sensitive to people’s apprehensions or concerns. While the parameters for marketing marijuana are much tighter than most products on the market, they ensure that the marketing is responsible and amps up the creative potential of different strategies, as marketers have to be savvy in order to avoid any legal or ethical hiccups.