Marijuana is gaining social and legal importance in the United States. While this is a good thing for cannabis brands, managing the stigma surrounding the cannabis plant is a marketing challenge.
In addition to increasing brand awareness in this constrained market, companies need to focus on educating customers about the legality of their product while offering simplified lessons in botany, biology, and chemistry. Just right?
While it may seem like a Herculean task, many companies in the cannabis industry have proven that they are up to the challenge.
Cannabis Marketing Regulations
Cannabis is still considered a List 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration. This means that while medical cannabis or adult cannabis is legally available in a particular state, the federal government has powers to shut it down.
Growing agricultural hemp with a THC content of 0.3% or less is legal nationwide. Cannabinoid-rich products such as CBD can be legally made and sold from this hemp, as long as the manufacturers meet federal requirements.
But don’t be too excited. States can decide how to deal with CBD and leave it in a gray area. In addition to this legal quagmire, there is a long list of regulations for advertising cannabis and derivatives like CBD.
This means that advertising on platforms with a nationwide reach is often out of the question. Some national newspapers and print magazines, as well as platforms such as Facebook and Instagram, also prohibit the marketing of cannabis due to these regulations.
The cannabis market includes a range of products such as groceries, flowers, topical products, capsules, oils, and CBD. This means that brands need to have a thorough understanding of the legal requirements and advertising regulations in each of the markets in which they operate.
For example, CBD brands often need to inform customers whether their products contain THC. In states with legalized recreational and medicinal cannabis, CBD products can legally contain THC, but these products cannot be sold or transported across state lines.
It’s a delicate balancing act with brands having to focus on educating audiences about everything cannabis-related to avoid confusion or break the law.
Common misconceptions about cannabis
Decades of bans have left a cloud over the industry, and there are some common misconceptions that marketers need to address:
Cannabis is a gateway drug.
Years of anti-drug programs in school, along with the DEA, which lists cannabis as a List 1 narcotic, lead people to believe that cannabis use leads to other, much harsher drug use. In 2010, Time published an article indicating that while there is a correlation between cannabis use and hard drug use, the correlation does not indicate a cause. Several studies have found that there is no clear association specifically with regard to the drug effects of cannabis and harder drug use later in life, but that cannabis is often simply the first drug encountered. While users of dangerous narcotics are likely to consume cannabis as well, the majority of cannabis users do not forego “harder” substances, although more research is needed.
Cannabis makes you lazy.
You all know the stereotype: the lazy stoner who spends all day in a couch-lock state, playing video games and eating anything that isn’t pinned down. However, the fact is that this is a stereotype of people who use cannabis. Marketers need to show that many people use cannabis to party, meditate, break down creative blocks, relieve stress, and otherwise lead their normal lives. As the industry becomes more legitimate, more and more people are likely to be open to their cannabis use, dispelling this myth.
All cannabis products will get you going.
All golden retrievers are dogs, but not all dogs are golden retrievers. While all cannabis products come from the same plant family, not all products induce feelings of intoxication.
CBD does have psychoactive effects, but in the vast majority of cases they are not intoxicating. In this regard, CBD can be viewed in the same way as caffeine. It affects the brain and can change mood, but it does not necessarily affect function. THC is the component in cannabis that causes a psychoactive response.
Cannabis education through marketing
The above misconceptions about cannabis prove that some kind of customer education program is necessary to help people understand the reality and relative safety of cannabis.
A content marketing strategy is one way to dispel myths and establish a brand as an industry leader. Content can also be created for longtime cannabis enthusiasts. Talk about terpenes, lesser known cannabinoids like CBG, the differences between isolate and a full spectrum product, and share recent scientific developments or discoveries.
Examples of effective cannabis marketing
Despite the challenges the industry is facing, several brands have managed to destroy their marketing campaigns by focusing on clearing up misunderstandings. Here are some of our favorite examples:
Using Mystic to Attract Customers
Although Four20 is a Canadian cannabis company (where cannabis is completely legal), its “It’s Four20 Somewhere” campaign has managed to navigate the online landscape around the globe successfully by relying on branding and engagement from Audience sustained. Without having to mention cannabis, the brand has been able to nod to cannabis culture and create a little bit of mystery and excitement by pulling people to their Instagram profile and eventually to their website.
Breaking down old stereotypes
MedMen wanted to break down old stereotypes with its “Forget Stoner” campaign from 2018. (Full disclosure: MedMen is a former customer of Wise Collective.) The campaign aimed to remove the stigma associated with cannabis use by showing the “real” face of cannabis users.
This campaign created a sense of inclusivity while changing the conversation about who is using cannabis. MedMen used the truth to its advantage. Marijuana users are everywhere and there is nothing wrong with that.
Whenever an underground culture goes mainstream, it takes a significant period of adaptation and social change before it becomes part of the norm. By providing educational content related to cannabis, cannabis culture and eliminating negative stereotypes, cannabis brands can grow and normalize the cannabis market while becoming industry leaders.