A complete look at marijuana advertising before the storm
Building a brand in a new, evolving market is an exciting challenge for a company, especially when based on a once-illegal industry.
For Canada, cannabis may have been criminalized in 1923 but the push for legalization has increased significantly over the last decade. The contention has resulted in a considerable amount of media coverage and public debate. Between its prevalence in politics, pop culture and now physical shops, we have marijuana on the mind.
The focus here is medical marijuana and the insane amount of money flowing into this budding industry. During 2014, Vancouver and Toronto held Canada’s first medical marijuana conference, GreenRush Financial Conference whose objective is to “provide a platform to educate and facilitate both investors looking to capitalize on this new industry and companies seeking financing for their projects”. The Globe and Mail provided commentary on which companies to invest in and projected the revenue growth in Canada for medicinal marijuana to reach $1.4 billion by 2024. There have also been warnings, around the risk of investing in cannabis companies and the challenges facing dispensaries.
For the (legal) marijuana industry, market stability and its future are unpredictable, to say the least. Once a new business has passed the legal and licensing obstacles, there are hazy policies and guidelines around the marketing of the product. November (2014) saw Health Canada distribute warnings to companies related to the promotion of marijuana products online. Soon, hopefully, the smoke will clear resulting in a clear view of the legal/financial/marketing environment for bud.
The viability of marijuana as a legitimate business may still be unclear but the glittering potential of big financial return has many jumping head first. The market is becoming increasingly competitive (and at a rapid pace), so businesses are looking to differentiate themselves.
Enter, the value of branding.
A Green Market
An emerging market is an exciting but challenging space, where new entrants need brand positioning to launch past competitors. Communicating their mission, qualities and uniqueness as a company through effective branding is key. Arriving early to the party with a clear sense of self and a solid strategy will establish the company as a leader in that market.
An AdWeek article “Who Will Become the Starbucks of Pot”, predicted the legal marijunna market to reach the 10 billion mark before 2020, which quite literally is a “gold rush for pot startups”. Thinking ahead, creative entrepreneurs are capitalizing on the movement, launching agencies focused solely on branding marijuna companies. A co-founder of the the agency Cannabrand, Olivia Mannix was quoted in the aforementioned piece saying that “any marijuana brand with serious ambitions will have to move beyond … whacky tabacky tactics”. For example, big plans are already underway at the newly-launched Aquarius Cannabis whose goal, announced via press release is to “create the first truly national, consumer facing marijuana brand”. In November, NBC covered the announcement that Bob Marley’s family will be using his name toward “Marley Natural”, stating “a true corporate brand is a major milestone in the ragamuffin world of legal cannabis”. Close to home, Olympic medalist Ross Rebagliati made news when he revealed that he will be utilizing the notoriety of his name and licensing it out to a medical marijuana distributor.
Blazing New Brands
Forward-thinking marijuana companies have solidified their brand’s position early. Within Canada, there are two companies ahead of the game: Tilray and Tweed. Comparing the two, they have vastly different brand identities, expressed through a combination of visual and verbal components.
Tilray works the scientific, medicinal approach. The company is represented with a very corporate logo and name. The packaging has a clean, modern design. The website’s landing page focuses on process, regulations and health care practitioners. Comparatively, Tweed has a trendy, hipster-friendly quality. The background of their website is reminiscent of 60s vintage wallpaper. The relaxed tone and illustrated visuals create a fun, laid-back experience for their audience. All in all, two very different ways of branding and differentiating competitors who are, ultimately, in the same business.
Why have these companies invested into creating such a specific personality for their brand? Like any other industry, emerging brands need to create a name and persona that will differentiate their product and services from their competitors. Carving out a unique identity in a new market is vital for success. Those who are distinct, make an impact and capture their audience’s attention immediately and build loyalty and brand equity over time.
A go-to for innovative business news, Fast Company wrote a piece on “how to brand a high demand, once-illegal product”, drawing attention to what seems like unlimited creative (and financial) opportunity. The magazine emphasized the importance of branding and design elements, where “some outlets will continue to rely on stoner iconography and head shop mentality, others will commission architects and interior designers to create a dispensary aesthetic”. The online piece predicted that in the near future, “for designers and branding professionals, landing a marijuana account may become as coveted as landing a liquor or car account”.
Slick packaging and designs are bankrolled with the confidence one has in their business. The companies entering the marketplace with an informed brand strategy, have a much higher chance of success than their counterparts who are relying purely on the promotion of pot to boost awareness and sales. Only time will tell which brand resonates the most with audiences and will captivate the market for the long run.
Our advice? Take advantage of unchartered territory and set the bar high—develop your brand’s tone, personality and unique aesthetic while others are still unfurling tie-dyed flags of pot leaves.
Being ahead of the curve could result in seeing a lot of green.