Election 2020 logged a five-state sweep for weed legalization, where voters in even conservative strongholds overwhelmingly approved ballot measures for medical and recreational sales. At the same time, the movement for decriminalizing cannabis and other formerly verboten substances picked up steam.
The industry ends the year in the strongest position of its young life, with Greg Butler, chief commercial officer of Cresco Labs, likening it to “a roaring wave—it can’t be ignored anymore.”
Against that backdrop, leaders in the category predict a golden age of weed marketing in 2021, one that takes a page from traditional consumer packaged goods but with a canna-centric twist.
“The time to own the cannabis narrative is now—to build brand recognition, establish trust and tell the world who you are,” said Jason White, CMO of Curaleaf, a top-tier player that operates 95 dispensaries in 23 states. “The window to lead is closing and only followers will remain.”
Loyalists and beyond
More than 111 million Americans, about 33% of the population, already have or will soon have access to legal flower, tinctures, edibles and infused drinks where they live. (Cannabis is fully legal for adults–recreational and medical sales–in 15 states and Washington D.C. and for medical sales in 36 states).
That means the industry has the opportunity to tout their products to longtime or lapsed fans and also to new potential buyers like cannacurious women, millennials, Baby Boomers and other coveted demographic groups.
A marketing surge, though not without its regulatory hurdles, would serve several purposes, such as chipping away at the lucrative illicit market and combating some lingering misconceptions about the category, said Cory Rothschild, svp, brand marketing, Cresco Labs, a multi-state cannabis operator and the largest weed wholesaler in the country.
“There’s still a pretty heavy lift on education, and the category has a lot of baggage,” he said. “But what if you can be the first brand that makes people feel comfortable with the category?”
The field is crowded and competition will be even more fierce going forward, Butler said, so “driving awareness and building points of differentiation will be critical. Strong brands matter in a commodity business.”
Creativity will blossom
Much of cannabis advertising has graduated from old-school pot leaf imagery and psychedelic colors, preferring to take the route of California-based Island, which recently unveiled a rebrand that had been in the works since early last year.
“I think stoner culture and tropes have kept cannabis in a dark alley,” said Lindsay Berg, Island’s vp, marketing. “Those associations can be very polarizing and unrelatable. We want it to feel more appealing and accessible to the masses.”