High New Horizons: Marijuana Marketing

Marketing is a fascinating field of study to me, as I am endlessly intrigued by the ingenuity and creativity that marketers display. I find myself critically and analytically viewing ads with eye to determining how the marketers went about identifying their products’ target markets, establishing brand recognition, devising discriminators, eliciting customer loyalty, and accomplishing myriad other feats to execute a successful marketing campaign. In particular, with today’s explosion in new product development, general rise in consumer acquisitiveness, and rapid obsolescence of product iterations, I find marketing an engaging and challenging field of endeavor.

Most of the hottest products skyrocketing to consumer attention at present include mobile phones and the endless variety of associated applications, gaming and entertainment devices, and other technology-driven offerings. A rather different new product, however, now coming to the forefront that fascinates me from a marketing perspective is…. marijuana. Legalized, recreational marijuana. For decades, clandestine use of illegal marijuana was ubiquitous, if often intentionally ignored, like the proverbial 800-pound-gorilla in the corner. Thus, though a product heavily in demand among certain segments of the population, marijuana was obviously taboo and could not be publicized or commercially marketed. Even the devices produced to aid in its consumption, though themselves composed of wholly legal materials, were highly controversial and subject to legal restrictions in many locales.

Today, however, marijuana is gradually segueing into the mainstream. Scorned and condemned by some but gleefully, giddily embraced by others, marijuana is still controversial but is now becoming a legitimate subject for marketing campaigns. Furthermore, as is true all hot, new, consumer products, marketers are beginning to establish themselves as viable representatives for this emerging industry, largely in the states where marijuana is legal and especially Colorado, one of the groundbreakers in legalization of recreational marijuana.

What is somewhat surprising about marijuana marketing consultants is that they are unexpectedly serious, sedate, and reserved. For example, Cohnnabis (https://cohnnabis.com/# ), rather than reflect a frivolous or dreamy façade as one might expect given the company’s focus, presents an almost austere image, emphasizing its respectability and successful history in marketing. Similarly, 4blooms Cannabis Business Services (https://www.4blooms.guru/blog/) site is quite heavily laden with statistics, financial projections, and other hard-core business features. The highly respected Atlantic Monthly magazine even published a marketing analysis by Vauhini Vara (2016) about the marijuana industry, contemplating such typical dilemmas as branding discrimination difficulty among producers and the challenge of winning over new, uninitiated consumers.

One is almost led to believe that the legalization of marijuana has turned it into merely another contender in the commercial rat race; yet some playfulness remains, especially regarding its continued illegality and cognoscente aura. The Washington Post, for example, published a chuckle-worthy article by Maura Judkis (2017), on the stealthy marketing surrounding what is known among marijuana aficionados as an unofficial holiday of sorts, April 20, fondly referred to as simply 420. April 20 is the legendarily date of the first marijuana smoke-in held in 1970 and since then, every year, 420 is a day of irreverent celebration. Food purveyors hoping to attract susceptible customers on 420 tantalize audiences with photos of gargantuan sundaes and overflowing burritos, making veiled allusions to the special date

While considered a legitimate new business territory by many, the fact that marijuana has perception-altering properties, is subject to abuse, and may exacerbate substance dependency repulses others. Nonetheless, as a legal product in search of all the benefits befitting an up and coming industry, cannabis may open up new avenues to marketing professionals looking for an unexploited niche.

 

 

References:

Judkis, M. (2017). Brands want to capitalize on 4/20 munchies. Pot advocates say it’s time to grow up. The Washington Post. April 18, 2017. Available at https://www.washingtonpost.com/amphtml/news/food/wp/2017/04/18/brands-want-to-capitalize-on-420-munchies-pot-advocates-say-its-time-to-grow-up/.

Vara, V. (2016). The art of marketing marijuana. The Atlantic Monthly, April 2016. Available at https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/04/the-art-of-marketing-marijuana/471507/.

 

 

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4 Responses to High New Horizons: Marijuana Marketing

  1. Donna Faye says:

    Hi Seble,

    This is such an interesting article. How would one really market marijuana? I think Cohnnabis and Cannabis Marketing Services’ approach in presenting themselves as credible and respectable marketing companies by providing statistics and proof of successful history is appropriate. I would think these are good reasons for a company to do business with them. However, what would be the most effective way of marketing marijuana? How would marketing companies position the product?

    Marketing would tell us to identify the target market and tailor the message to that market segment. There might be two basic market segments: people who are already using marijuana and those who have never tried it before. In either market, I’m not sure that a message that reflects a frivolous or dreamy façade would necessarily be effective. While advertisements that promote the benefits of marijuana such as its healing attributes might work, I would develop a creative that positions marijuana as part of a normal, everyday life — that is if the goal is to make marijuana use mainstream.

    Donna

  2. Bobby Borg says:

    Hi Sebie,

    I enjoyed reading your piece. Some of the highlights were this:

    “Marketers are beginning to establish themselves as viable representatives for this emerging industry, largely in the states where marijuana is legal and especially Colorado, one of the groundbreakers in legalization of recreational marijuana.”

    Wow! Talk about finding and filling a need! Very interesting.

    Your summary, “Cannabis may open up new avenues to marketing professionals looking for an unexploited niche,” makes one think about the marketing and career opportunities this presents.

    I just had to do it: In Google, I typed “careers in marketing marijuana” and up popped a bunch of job listings.

    Here is one for a sales rep: https://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=Careers+in+Marketing+marijuana&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8&ibp=htl;jobs#htidocid=PCchPlKakTI7UpbDAAAAAA%3D%3D.

    Here is another article that lists the top popular jobs in the industry and they mention sales and marketing in there as well: https://www.cnbc.com/2017/04/20/5-high-paying-marijuana-jobs-in-the-legal-cannabis-industry.html.

    Wow. Who would have ever imagined. I can remember kids in high school getting busted for selling a joint and having to go to court. Now there are legal jobs in selling Marijuana. Amazing!

    Thanks for the article,

    Bobby Borg

  3. Thomas says:

    Hi Seble,

    You’ve really struck on an interesting topic of late concerning the legal cannabis industry. I recently saw a program featuring Marcus Lemonis, who hosts the MSNBC show “The Profit” where he was seriously looking into investing in a large cannabis growing facility. Here is a guy known for only looking at businesses that he thinks will turn a serious profit. And for anyone who has taken note of the revenue that the State of Colorado has been making of of its new cash crop, it’s definitely become a going concern for serious investors. I can understand why you have found information about marijuana shops being very “business” like in their approach. Now you have to be with the investment involved and the taxes you have to pay.

    I think as time goes on the marketing will get more creative, just as it has with other “legitimate” industries that came before it. Who knows, you just might start seeing this product on the next Super Bowl commercial.

  4. Austin Van Horn says:

    Seble,
    This is an interesting topic for me because my company has dealt with marijuana product producing companies recently. While I think there is a big opportunity for marketers to make their move, I do think that there are additional obstacles they should keep in mind. For example, my company does not do business with organizations that produce cannabis related products and services. The reasoning is that while cannabis is legal in some states that we do business, we are still bound by federal laws which limits business with marijuana related companies. We’ve experienced backlash on this company policy to the point where we’ve had to reevaluate our position.
    Organizations can be sly about the approach it takes (similar to the restaurants enlarging food), but actual cannabis product producers still have an uphill battle. I don’t think that the industry will take off quite as fast as many believe, but I do think it will eventually happen. As organizations like mine reevaluate policies and as state and federal laws loosen up, the industry will begin to see greater growth.

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