Opinions expressed are solely those of the author and do not reflect the views of Rolling Stone editors or publishers.
Marijuana is gaining social and legal traction across the U.S. And while this is a good thing for cannabis brands, navigating the stigma that surrounds the cannabis plant is a bit of a marketing challenge.
Not only do companies have to grow brand awareness within this restricted market, but they also must focus on educating customers about the legalities of their product, all while providing simplified botany, biology and chemistry lessons. Easy, right?
While it may seem like a Herculean task, many companies in the cannabis industry have proven they are up for the challenge.
Cannabis Marketing Regulations
Cannabis is still considered a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration. This means that while medical or adult-use cannabis may be legally available in a specific state, the federal government has the power to shut it down.
The growth of agricultural hemp with a THC content of 0.3% or less is federally legal. From this hemp, cannabinoid-rich products like CBD can be legally produced and sold as long as the producers meet the federally mandated requirements.
But don’t get too excited. States are allowed to decide how they want to handle CBD, leaving it in a bit of a grey area. On top of this legal quagmire, there is a lengthy list of regulations on the advertising of cannabis and derivatives like CBD.
This means that advertising on platforms that have a nationwide reach is often out of the question. Some national newspapers and print magazines, along with platforms like Facebook and Instagram, also prohibit cannabis marketing because of these regulations.
Range of Products
The cannabis market includes a range of products like edibles, flower, topicals, capsules, oils and CBD. This means brands must be fully aware of the legal requirements and advertising regulations in each of the markets they’re in.
CBD brands, for example, often need to educate customers about whether their products contain THC. In states with legalized recreational and medical cannabis, CBD products may legally contain THC, but these products cannot be sold or transported across state lines.
It is a delicate balancing act that requires brands to focus on educating the audience about all things cannabis to avoid confusion or running afoul of the law.
Common Misconceptions About Cannabis
Decades of prohibition 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, coupled with the DEA listing cannabis as a Schedule 1 narcotic, lead people to believe that cannabis use leads to other, much harder drug use. In 2010, Time published a piece indicating that while there is a correlation between the use of cannabis and hard drugs, correlation does not indicate causation. Several studies have found that there isn’t a clear connection specifically regarding the drug effects of cannabis and harder drug use later in life, but rather that cannabis is often simply the first drug encountered. In fact, while users of dangerous narcotics are also likely to use cannabis, the majority of cannabis consumers do not go no to use “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 state of couch-lock, playing video games, while eating everything that isn’t nailed down. But, the fact is, this is a stereotype of people who consume cannabis. Marketers need to show that many people use cannabis to celebrate, meditate, reduce creative blocks, manage stress levels and otherwise go about their normal lives. As the industry gains more legitimacy, more and more people will likely be open about their cannabis consumption and, in doing so, dispel this myth.
All cannabis products get you ‘high.’
All golden retrievers are dogs, but not all dogs are golden retrievers. Similarly, while all cannabis products are derived from the same plant family, not all products will result in feelings of intoxication.
CBD does have psychoactive effects, but in the vast majority of cases, these are not intoxicating. In this regard, CBD can be thought of in the same vein as caffeine. It impacts the brain and can alter mood but does not necessarily impair functioning. THC is the component in cannabis that elicits a psychoactive response.
Cannabis Education Through Marketing
The above misconceptions about cannabis prove that some sort 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 set out dispelling myths and establishing a brand as an industry leader. Content can also be created for longtime cannabis enthusiasts as well. 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 faced by the industry, several brands have managed to crush their marketing campaigns by focusing on dispelling misconceptions. Here are a few of our favorite examples:
Using Mystic to Engage Customers
While Four20 is a Canadian cannabis company (where cannabis is fully legal), it has managed to successfully navigate the online landscape across the globe by relying on brand building and audience engagement with its “It’s Four20 somewhere” campaign. Without having to mention cannabis, the brand was able to give a nod to cannabis culture and generate a little mystery and excitement, pulling people to its Instagram profile and, eventually, its website.
Breaking Down Old Stereotypes
MedMen aimed to break down old stereotypes with its 2018 “Forget Stoner” campaign. (Full Disclosure: MedMen is a former client of Wise Collective.) The campaign sought to remove the stigma attached to cannabis use by showing the “real” face of cannabis consumers.
This campaign created a sense of inclusiveness while changing the conversation about who uses cannabis. MedMen used the truth to its advantage. Marijuana consumers are everywhere, and there is nothing wrong with that.
Whenever an underground culture goes mainstream, it requires a significant period of adjustment and social change before it becomes a part of the norm. By providing educational content around cannabis, cannabis culture and dispelling negative stereotypes, cannabis brands can grow and normalize the cannabis market while also becoming industry leaders.