By George Farris
YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Buying marijuana is not something Americans are used to doing out in the open. Many recall a scenario where a friend scored the pot and brought it to his friends.
Comedians Cheech and Chong had a routine featuring a character named “Dave,” who runs out to buy weed for himself and his stoner buddy. (knock knock) Chong: “Who is it?” Cheech: “It’s me, Dave man. Open up, I got the stuff.” Chong: “Who?” Cheech: “It’s Dave. Open up, I think the cops saw me…” Chong: “Dave?” Cheech: “Yeah, ..C’mon man, open up…..” Chong: “Dave’s not here.”
It’s gotten a lot easier since medicinal and now recreational pot sales have been legalized in select states. But even though sales are legal, the marketing remains strictly regulated – for now. In many states, marketing cannabis with testimonials, or showing anyone using the product, is forbidden. Digital marketing and social media marketing are heavily restricted.
But the corporate cannabis crowd has too much money invested and too much potential revenue to give up. So it just follows those regulations.
According to Statista, “In the United States, sales of legal recreational cannabis are expected to reach an estimated 25 billion U.S. dollars by 2025. Legal marijuana sales are forecast to increase steadily with each consecutive year. The number of cannabis consumers is likewise expected to grow in the United States: by 2025, the country is projected to have close to 50 million consumers.”
So cannabis dispensaries are attempting a branding-only or a directional or informational approach. Some are sponsoring events or hiring social media influencers. Some are challenging the regulations. They have good reason to believe they will prevail. Lawyers had lots of rules against advertising their services. That changed in 1977 when the U.S. Supreme Court struck down prohibitions against legal service advertising.
Cannabis companies are marketing with the help of organizations like Weedmaps – a tech company serving the cannabis industry. Weedmaps sometimes uses a directional or informational approach. “Weed is Legal in 60 Miles” reads a Weedmap billboard on the highway. Some of their ads attempt humor. “High Ann Arbor” reads one billboard as if welcoming you to the city.
MedMen, which describes itself as “the premium cannabis retailer of the United States.” offers “an unparalleled shopping experience at all of our 25+ stores…” MedMen has stores in California, Nevada, Illinois, Arizona, New York and Florida. Its marketing is a mix, many with the simple message CANNABIS written across a lifestyle photo on a billboard along with the location of one of its dispensaries. Some are more aggressive with two sentences, “Shop. It’s legal” across the smiling face of an attractive female.
Defending the sales of the product is a common theme also. The pot sellers want to help you justify your purchase and help to remove the stigma of buying their product. Hence, “Cannabis is Medicine” can often be seen in headlines. “So is Tequila,” one is tempted to reply.
One of the weirdest examples I’ve come across is an ad from Clear Choice Cannabis in Tacoma, Wash., which features a cat and the headline, “I’m so High Right Meow.” I couldn’t find that flavor on its website. But the company did offer Apple Fritter, Gelato Cake and Cookies and Cream – thereby successfully giving me the munchies without even sampling its product.
Some dispensaries also deliver. You first pay for it online.
With prices “hovering mostly between $10 and $11 per gram” ($280-$311 an ounce), according to the Dayton Daily News, you can bet the buyer lets Dave in when he knocks on the door and “has the stuff.”
George Farris is CEO of Farris Marketing. Email [email protected].