by Chloe Rascon, Marketing & Communications Coordinator for Snubber
“If you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.”
Despite efforts by industry professionals in recent years to enhance the image of the cannabis industry by slowly negating the stigma of the plant with scientific data, the overall presence of the industry’s social media marketing has a penchant for crude and often immature strategies. After even a ten minute glance into the myriad Twitter accounts of the industry’s marketing accounts one can clearly see the stark comparison between it and other recreational enterprises like alcohol and tobacco. With such a juvenile online persona being so typical, it’s no wonder we can’t seem to shake the notorious stoner stigma the once exclusively black-market industry used to hold so dear. This arrant unprofessionalism would be considered unacceptable to its pharmaceutical cousins, so why has it become the industry standard?
The aforementioned lax marketing approach they employ refers to the ease of which Tweets are sent out claiming how stoned one might be, how often they may smoke, and so on and so forth. Comparatively, one would certainly not see owners or producers of brewing companies tweeting similar claims about their own products. To a fault, “[t]he marketing of cannabis has always been comedic: tie-dyes and lava lamps and short-term memory lapses” (Beres 2018). Although the social media platforms that are the unwitting hosts to such advertisements — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and the like — have historically cracked down on these accounts due to the legal status of cannabis on a federal level, for the most part it still seems to be the norm. “The cannabis industry has yet to find its way in marketing, which isn’t altogether that surprising as the industry is new,” Andre Bourque of Entrepreneur remarks. “The potential market makes it, and everyone involved in it, a bit frenzied and unfocused. <…> As a result and overall, the cannabis industry lags behind its contemporaries in traditional marketing expertise.”
One of the major branding issues these companies face is that there is a huge discrepancy between the medical and recreational markets, yet often they are treated as equals and in many cases the medical market takes a backseat to recreational. Whether they are targeting a severely ill MMJ patient or a long-time smoker that can now smoke legally, the pitch remains the same. While this strategy works phenomenally on the consumers who come from years of black-market use, it isn’t so effective when targeting users who are obliged to take the drug more seriously. Additionally, there is a massive untapped potential to market towards audiences who would traditionally avoid recreational use but could if it were advertised similarly to alcohol or tobacco. As Bourque puts it, “If the stereotypical soccer mom isn’t going to embrace cannabis, America won’t, no matter what rebranding or marketing is behind it. You may never see it in Whole Foods, but if the people who shop at the industry giant aren’t also buying cannabis products in some fashion or another norm from other retailers, the industry will not grow.”
Despite this unfledged marketing approach, the industry is beginning to change for the better. While it’s still incredibly common for small businesses like young dispensaries, start-ups, and cannabis-related blogs to produce streams targeting those who fit the stoner persona, many of the leaders in the industry are moving away from this and towards a news and science-driven feed. With the exception of a handful of stubborn entities, many of their social media profiles reflect this paradigm shift and have invested in polished online presences. It’s refreshing, but unfortunately with the powerful politicians and businessmen and women watching this industry like a hawk it is not yet enough. If the smaller companies and stubborn industry giants reconstructed their marketing strategies to include atypical cannabis users who are “more attracted by health and lifestyle-related messaging than slogans promoting blear-eyed partying” (Kaye 2016) the market would explode with interest and politicians could potentially be lining up for a past-due federal policy change.
Without having a say in how businesses advertise or run their social media accounts, it’s hard to determine a suitable course of action. The one thing that can be done is to continue to place emphasis on the value of gathering and applying scientific data industry-wide with the hope that this philosophy will be implemented in social media outlets as well. With competitors like the pharmaceutical giants that have been in the business for the better half of the last century, brewing companies that have even older roots, and a well-established tobacco and smokeless cigarette industry, it’s past time we allow the cannabis culture to evolve into a more inclusive and adaptable market. Until the industry is capable of that adjustment, it will continue to be stigmatized as one brimming with capricious hippies and its potential to diversify its audience will remain stagnant.
Beres, Derek. “Why legal marijuana businesses are being kicked off social media.” Big Think, Big Think, 22 Feb. 2018, bigthink.com/21st-century-spirituality/marijuana-businesses-are-being-kicked-off-of-social-media-what-can-they-do-about-this.
Bourque, Andre. “10 Ways the Cannabis Industry Is Rebranding to Meet Its Biggest Challenges.” Entrepreneur, Entrepreneur, 25 Sept. 2017, http://www.entrepreneur.com/article/300656.
Bourque, Andre. “The Many Ways the Cannabis Industry Lacks Traditional Marketing Expertise.” Entrepreneur, Entrepreneur, 27 Jan. 2017, www.entrepreneur.com/article/288284.
Kaye, Kate. “The Rebranding of Reefer: Savvy Startups Work to Class Up Cannabis and Fight the Stoner Stigma.” Ad Age, Ad Age, 19 Jan. 2016, adage.com/article/cmo-strategy/rebranding-refer-savvy-startups-class-cannabis/302107/.