Restrictions on cannabis advertising are pushing companies to find creative ways to reach consumers.
8 min read
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Changes in the cannabis industry are occurring at light speed, and perhaps none so fast as in the marketing space. Remember when cannabis ads showed up in our social media feeds, and then, in what seemed like five minutes later, Facebook/Instagram and Google/YouTube began shutting companies down for posting them?
The very nature of marketing is changing, too. Usually it takes a creative marketing strategy to get a company noticed. But in cannabis industry, where The Man is always one step behind, those battles have to be won at the tactical level. Where you deliver your message is just as important as what you say. Here are some real-world examples of killer marketing placements that work.
1. Advertise on a Vending Machine
In the future, there will be vending machines for weed. Wait, what’s that? The future is now. A California company called Grasshopper Kiosks makes digital vending machines for dispensaries that carry anything from pre-rolls to beverages and include refrigeration to keep the product fresh. The hi-res video touch-screens are perfect for advertising your brand on the interactive screen. Or you can wrap the entire machine with your branding. American Green also makes vending machines that deliver cannabis products.
2. Find an Ad Network That’s Weed Friendly
Far from conducting “digital raids” like Facebook and Google, there are a few advertising networks that actually want your cannabis company display ads, and have robust platforms that allow both publishers and advertisers to serve them up. Traffic Roots has burst on the scene with an online control panel that’s so simple to use, you can literally turn the dials of your advertising revenues and costs, and soon will enable your cannabis company ads to appear on mainstream sites, broadening the opportunity immensely. Another ad network, Mantis focuses on geo-targeting (“local advertising made simple”). In digital advertising, make sure to inquire about retargeting ads – the ones that seem to follow users from site to site.
3. Invest in a Broadway Show
While the mainstream world has been slow to arrive at the cannabis party, plenty of entertainment brands are right out in front of it. Right now, Netflix users can choose between double-digit cannabis-themed movies, series, and documentaries. Sorry, you can’t advertise on Netflix (though you could buy its stock and post about it). But if you want your brand seen by a huge, canna-appreciative audience, you can invest in the Broadway-bound production of “Reefer Madness – The Musical” (use the link to get more information). What bigger, bolder marketing statement could there be than a wildly entertaining Broadway musical “brought to you by…?
4. Buy a Billboard
Some of the most memorable advertising in history happened up on the roof. Who can forget the “Think Different” campaign by America’s first trillion-dollar brand — Apple? With a good location and great creative, billboard advertising can be a highly visible home run. And there are plenty of advertising agencies and media companies that can help you place your creative. Challenges are: in legal cannabis states like California, there are strict limitations on what you can show. Placing your brand high above the chimney tops can run you from $2K per month in Spokane to $100K per month above Hollywood’s Sunset Strip. But hey, advertising wisdom says three impressions locks a message in your mind, so if tens of thousands of potential customers smile as they drive past your billboard every single day, it could be worth the investment.
5. Create Human Billboards
During the Trump-Kim Jong Un summit in Singapore, you may have noticed Dennis Rodman wearing a Potcoin T-shirt in every interview he did. You probably don’t remember a think he said, but you remember the T-shirt. Message to cannabis brands: STEAL THIS IDEA! Human’s sporting your brand colors can be effective. But beware, the dumpsters behind cannabis trade shows are filled with shiny branded junk. SWAG Rule #1: Only put your graphics on the best quality merch. No kidding: Buy half the number and twice the quality. Because what could be more discouraging for your target audience than seeing your brand spilling from a garbage can?
6. Sponsor Something, or Somebody
A conference. A film festival. A team. An athlete. Let everyone who attends see your name in REALLY BIG LETTERS as the brand-that-makes-things-happen. Becoming a sponsor at a cannabis trade how like the Cannabis World Congress and Business Expo (CWCBE) of MJBizCon (might top 20,000 visitors this year) is easy and effective. Black Rock led the way by sponsoring Skier Tanner Hall, and KYND (runner David Barbano); HempMeds (MMA fighter Liz Carmouche), and Wana Brands (ultramarathoner Flavie Dokken) have followed suit. Make sure to put your sponsorship on relevant and cool, and make sure “The Flower Show” is for the right kind of flower.
7. Create Your Own Event
Not for the faint of heart, but if you want to go where few marketers dare, create your own branded event that shows the market who’s boss. Think about how many thousands of people will be at MJBizCon, CWCBE, and [YourBrandHere]. California cannabis software company Webjoint recently launched the inaugural California Cannabis Awards, an Oscars-like awards show in Downtown Los Angeles this spring. It was a lot of work but a total blast — and by the way, the founder of WebJoint is just 23 years old. Up in Seattle, Jared Mirsky and his Wick & Mortar Agency created the Wick & Mortar Mixer. Don’t forget to hire photographers, videographers, and social media posters to put your gig on blast.
8. Get Loud with Old School Public Relations
Marketing can be spendy, and many new brands can only afford advertising or PR. Even as a former ad-guy, for my money, I’d choose PR every time (full disclosure: I consider social media to be public relations, not advertising). An article on a news or industry website is more convincing and a far more valuable investment because of how search engines work. Here’s why: When customers (or investors) search for “Joe’s Kush”, is the search result going to include ads? Neep. Will it include an YOUR BRAND NAME in a published article? You betcha.
But if you think PR just posting press releases, you’ll be disappointed when no one reads them. Winning in public relations means maintaining good key relationships with dozens of media outlets and giving them what they need. For example, LA-based KMA Cannabis — still adding to its growing stable of cannabis brands. Also check out the Cannabis Global Initiative, and Nisonco
9. Throw a Branded Party
At last year’s MJBizCon in Las Vegas, Treez threw The Epic Afterparty at the Artisan Hotel. It was a big investment and a big gamble — a quirky hotel, off The Strip, competing with big brands who threw buckets of duckets at champagne events. But guess what? The Treez Epic Afterparty raged until the wee hours with no drama, great food, amazing DJs, comfy hangouts inside, outside, by the pool, in rooms. Savvy brands sponsored the gig and showed off their graphics and goodies to thousands of very happy cannabis. The vibe was incredible, deals got done. Pretty sure no one remembers any other BizCon party.
10. Go Guerilla!
If you have a great product it’s your duty to let people know. Get out and hustle. Hand out flyers/stickers/T-shirts at MJBizCon or CWCBE or any of the 40-something cannabis trade shows. Write your tag line on the sidewalk in chalk. Sure, security might chase you away, so wear your running shoes.
11. Create 5-Second Commercials
Vine might be dead, but for efficient impact, a well-crafted 5-second spot can’t be beat. “OK, but where do they live?”, someone asked. Answer: Everywhere there’s a screen. Any creative person with an iPhone-or-better can make a 5-second commercial and save it as a .gif or mp4. (Follow your local advertising rules about content). When edited to its minimalist-best, this little gem can be shared via text, posted on YouTube, Vimeo, giphy.com, posted on your website, on a digital ad network like Traffic Roots (above), in your blog, emailed to your mom… on your social media (though as above, F&G might smush you). There is practically no limit to sharing a great 5-second spot.
12. Blog Your Branded Brains Out
Blogging is so three years ago, the young and restless will say. Well, bootstrappers can’t be choosers, and again, online marketing is not only photos on Instagram. Search engines key on your words, not pictures. A well-crafted blog lets you share your passion and attitude and intelligence within a branded environment you completely control… a very rare opportunity these days. So frontload those keywords, don’t go off-brand (if your company makes dispensary equipment, don’t show granny smoking a bong), and post at least twice a week.