High kind of advertising
By Marguerite Arnold
While it may have escaped headlines on news websites, attendees at the first cannabis-friendly U.S. Open golf championship at Chambers Bay in Washington this year saw an interesting advertisement for “grass” of a different sort.
It was a banner year for the June’s U.S. Open to begin with on the marijuana front. Ticket holders who were not even allowed to bring their own water onto the grounds were allowed to bring their own marijuana. Once they got to the course, they were also feted with a small biplane that announced that local retailer Mary Mart was in business to refill supplies that may have been depleted after a tough day of hiking the links course dunes.
While the pleased owner of Mary Mart, Noel Roberts, commented to the local News Tribune that the effort worked as customers commented on it when they visited his shop, overall the legal industry in Tacoma saw a slight bump in sales from the Open.
The innovative advertising effort is also a sign that along with new tolerance at sporting events and entertainment venues, the advertising niche for brands and shops alike is about to break wide open.
Long held back by both federal prohibition and local municipalities, the marijuana industry is getting creative both about branding and advertising efforts. Could sports endorsements really be all that far behind?
Wendy Rall, of Budd Branding, said she expects advertising and marketing to explode as cannabis moves more toward the mainstream. Budd Branding is a boutique design firm dedicated to the cannabis industry.
“There are some who might say ‘advertising is dead,’ but I believe that you will be seeing more products and services spending their money on advertising,” Rall said. “This is primarily due to the fact that the industry is exploding, and so many new products and services are entering the cannabis market, that the competition is increasing rapidly.”
That’s what makes branding so vital for a company, she added. In her opinion, ancillary business will get their best “bang for their buck” when marketing through business-to-business channels, such as industry trade magazines, as opposed to social media options, Rall said.
“On the other hand, a business selling edibles, for example, will want to have an active presence on social media in order to reach masses,” she added.
Many companies are using the expanding legal footprint of cannabis across the country as a way to rethink how to reach customers — and in all sorts of venues and demographics. Olivia Mannix at Cannabrand, a Colorado-based marijuana advertising company is on the front lines of this innovation in her daily work. She sees the current restrictions on advertising as challenges to be overcome rather than roadblocks.
“Since the cannabis industry is in its infancy, it is a blank canvas for innovative ideas,” she said. “We use our creativity when it comes to branding and advertising campaigns to hone in on our clients’ target markets.”
For instance, Mannix said she would market products like vape pens more toward women, because of the sleek, discrete look of the products. She said the focus on female consumers and vaping are two interesting sub-trends within that market that play a big factor in advertising and branding.
Many of these more traditional “advertising” opportunities also look like good old fashioned product-trial, retail marketing. Aaron LoCascio, the CEO of VapeWorld also sees a lot of this in the vape community. “Smart companies are putting extra efforts into helping educate the public not only on how to use vaporizers, but on their many benefits,” he said.
“I believe most importantly, a creative/strategic approach paired with education/information regarding cannabis consumption is your best bet for cannabis marketing,” she said.
Julianna Carella, the CEO of Auntie Delores is a big proponent of this kind of marketing. “We have found as the industry is forming that reaching our current and potential customers has been about focusing on a grassroots effort,” she said. “It’s also about being involved in the cannabis industry in ways that focus on initiatives, events and programs that we genuinely support and believe in.”
Carella also finds that collaborations and partnerships with other businesses is an important avenue for her company to reach patients. “We frequently do product sampling and demos in the cannabis dispensaries all over California,” she said. “We find this helps us to directly reach many people that wouldn’t get to try our products otherwise. We also provide training to our dispensaries and are active brand ambassadors for the company in our own personal lives.”
Rall said companies often get caught up in the creation of a product or service without specifying who they want to attract.
“It is very important to identify your target market,” she said. “Once this is known, my advice is to hire a professional designer to discuss your business and demographic and to share your ideas. … Marketing for each demographic will be done in different ways. A younger demographic will read more lifestyle-related magazines and be more active on social media than a more senior consumer may be. Reinforcing a consistent brand image is the best advice I can give. Carry the same visual look across your advertising and marketing platforms and you will be sure to stay on top.”
The one thing that is clear as marijuana acceptance spreads is that potential customers are also in places where they are beginning to see advertising specifically targeting them in all sorts of ways and venues.
Marguerite Arnold is a freelance journalist and the author of “Green: The First 12 Months of Modern American Marijuana Reform.”