Cannabis Marketing is Stuck in the Stone Age

Current research predicts that the Cannabis market will see total sales around $41BN by 2025, which is obviously quite significant.  Though the product has been around for what seems like ever, it’s a new territory for marketers and is a whole new world of brands.  

During Advertising Week a panel of veteran marketers and ‘new to the Cannabis world’ marketers took the stage to discuss the current landscape and where things are headed.

Right now only about 1/3 of consumers can actually name a Cannabis brand, leaving the market wide open for new players to come in and make an impact.  That said, Jenn Wong VP, Marketing Cura Partners, Inc., noted that while California, for instance, has one of the most sophisticated markets, the marketing is not sophisticated at all.  Currently, much of the marketing still falls into that “stoner” stereotype that we all know. Only a couple of brands have truly made a statement about what they stand for but the panel saw this changing in the future.

Unfortunately, right now there are tons of regulatory issues around advertising and very few brands can actually afford to buy media and scale (or top tier marketing, for that matter).  Right now, because of both of those issues, they are effectively operating in the “stone age of marketing.  

There is no social component, no paid performance media and they aren’t able to work with the Facebook’s or Twitter’s of the world.  This brings them back to their “OG tactics,” as Jen put it.  

Essentially what the industry is desperately in need of is education.  There are a lot of misconceptions, mixed messaging and overall lack of awareness of what the products really are and do. That is certainly something that all brands need to work on to make sure that the consumer really has all of the tools and information to make decisions about what they want — the consumer is so sophisticated and just because it’s a new category, doesn’t mean they forgot how to shop.  Therefore, the Cannabis market needs to start meeting the consumer where they are.

The panel also spent some time talking about what it really means transition from non-branded to branded.  As Joel Lunenfeld, CMO, NorCal Cannabis, put it, if someone asked you what your favorite brand of water was 20+ years ago, what would you say, “tap?”

There is an incredible opportunity for brands to enter the space and for brands to figure out what they really want to get behind.  And, now is the time. Big CPG brands are dying to enter the space – they’re just waiting to find the right onramp. Right now the political climate is incredibly tumultuous and everyone isn’t really sure where the cards are going to fall and what may change in the coming months, which causes a bit of apprehension for big CPG companies.  That said, eventually that time will pass and they will want a piece of the pie.

Lastly, they got a bit into dispensaries.  Right now, their focus is around “dispensing of the term dispensary.”  These stores are so much more than that and should be treated as such. It needs to become a shopping experience where people feel comfortable going to explore, just the same way consumers got comfortable going to craft beer stores and sharing what they like in the hopes of getting a recommendation.  

The opportunities seem endless and as an experience-led transformation agency, we’re incredibly curious to see where the future takes us in this space.  It seems there will be no shortage of customer experiences that need to be developed…