What’s In A Name: How Cannabis Brands Can Break Through The Clutter
As more states are passing laws to allow adults to use cannabis, brands in the space are facing a dilemma. How do you differentiate your brand and its product line in a more competitive environment while still providing a positive consumer experience?
Marketers, recognizing this, have historically reached out to celebrities to accomplish that. A study published in the British Journal of Marketing Studies on the impact of celebrity-endorsed products found the credibility and authenticity of the celebrity’s connection to the product is one of the major factors in its success or failure.
That’s not something lost on the cannabis industry. The line is around the block of cannabis companies owned and operated or licensed by a celebrity. According to Benzinga, a digital publication that focuses on the cannabis business, Houseplant (Seth Rogen), Cookies (Berner), Leafs by Snoop (Snoop Dog) and Garcia Handpicked (Trixie Garcia, Jerry’s daughter) are among the top celebrity brands.
And, while the list of celebrities entering the cannabis space continues to grow, consumers influenced by those brands are finding as cluttered a market as there is for non-celebrity branded cannabis. Fandom can only go so far if the product doesn’t deliver on its promises of a unique experience.
The challenge for all marketers, but specifically in cannabis, with celebrity engagement at an overload, is how to find properties that, while entertainment based, are more experientially than personality driven. At the core of the definition of entertainment is having an enjoyable and memorable shared experience with a group that you couldn’t have by yourself. And what’s a bigger shared experience than taking a journey with 400 of your best friends as you watch a movie in a theater? Who doesn’t remember laughing hysterically (we were high!) through the Cheech & Chong films or Half Baked and other comedies that used cannabis consumption as a comic device?
Long before the fantasy worlds (and enormous budgets) of Game of Thrones and its imitators were created, there was a period in the late ’70s/early ’80s where filmmakers created their fantasies through animation. Ralph Bakshi’s “Fritz The Cat” was the first X-rated animated movie and re-invented what you could and couldn’t do with animation.
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Another animated film that became iconic for its amazing soundtrack, as well as its engaging bizarre and trippy storylines that incorporate fantasy and sex linked by a central figure, is 1981’s Heavy Metal. Based on a graphic novel comic book series that had a cult following, it was produced by Ivan Reitman (Stripes, Ghostbusters, Twins) and featured the voices of John Candy, Joe Flaherty and Eugene Levy, among others. In full transparency, I handled publicity for the film while working at Columbia Pictures and we had one of the most incredible film premiere parties I can remember; a party at NY’s Guggenheim Museum highlighted by live performance by Cheap Trick, who appeared on the soundtrack album. And I can’t comment on the rumors of a young publicist consuming cannabis there…and I’m involved with the communications outreach for this as well.
There’s no doubt using a known brand to market your products can jumpstart engaging with the consumer you’re targeting; those who are fans are pre-disposed to purchase products that are familiar to them as well as generating a positive nostalgic feeling. As the film’s very positive Heavy Metal NYT review said,“this animated feature is off on its own track, combining science fiction, mysticism, sex, violence and rock music. Much of the time, these elements do what the filmmakers want them to and make for a heady mix.”
With that kind of description and the movie’s iconic history, the stars have aligned to bring to market a different kind of celebrity endorsement, as Massachusetts consumers will be the first in the country to get to purchase a new line of cannabis products, including flower, pre-rolls, blunts, vapes, concentrates and edibles all based on the film and its characters. Inspired by the stories in the film, each of the product lines will have collectible packaging featuring the biggest characters in the “Metalverse.” In fact, one of the slogans they’ll be using is “MetalVerse Meets the CannaVerse.” The line of products goes on sale April 1 throughout the state with plans to bring the brand to other legal states.
The cannabis brands are from a partnership between Heavy Metal Entertainment (HME), which owns the license for the brand, and Berkshire Roots, the largest cultivator in the Berkshires. The idea of connecting its characters and stories to great cannabis products can deliver another level of experience to the Heavy Metal fanbase as well as bringing new converts to the Heavy Metal family. It is also a concept that can be applied to other classic properties.
I believe as the market continues to mature, there will continue to be challenges for brands that want and need to stand out from their competitors. As a consumer for more than 50 years and a lifelong publicist, I believe what Heavy Metal started is the next great wave of cannabis branding trends: built-in audiences from movie and TV classics. I, for one, can’t wait to roll my first Apocalypse Now joint!
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