As the US cannabis market continues to reach new heights, with sales expected to top $28 billion in 2022, the challenge for any cannabis marketing is to create standout campaigns in an increasingly competitive landscape. The priority has to be a strong showing for 4/20, the single highest grossing day of the year for cannabis dispensaries. How can brands prepare for the industry’s “Black Friday” on April 20th? We pick out our favorite x 420 marketing campaigns for inspiration.
The Challenges of Cannabis Marketing
Cannabis or “420” marketing is fraught with pitfalls and it’s no place for the timid or inexperienced. Every campaign has to accommodate the following:
- Heavy regulatory restrictions. There’s so much you can’t say (health claims) and so much you must (health risks). Brands have to be extremely wary of promoting cannabis to underaged consumers or those in states where cannabis isn’t legal.
- Competition from non-cannabis brands. Everyone wants a slice of the 420 pie now that cannabis has shaken off its “Reefer Madness” stigma, so getting your campaign noticed is harder.
- Market changes. Now that it’s legal in many states (but not at federal level), brands are struggling to leave the stoner image behind and pitch cannabis as a way to turn up your lifestyle, not tune out. That’s reflected in demographics. The cannabis market saw 127% growth among Gen Z compared to 5% for Boomers.
With these considerations in mind, whose campaigns really stood out in recent years?
From Leafs by Snoop to Seth Rogan’s Houseplant, the crossover between celebrities and cannabis is now out in the open and demanding attention. But Jay Z’s Monogram is on another level entirely, as might be expected. For 420 in 2021, Monogram recruited Hype Williams, fashion director Corey T. Stokes, and a host of people to gather poolside for a Slim Aarons-inspired campaign. This is indeed “The good life, redefined” and a significant visual style upgrade from the stoner aesthetic.
Why we like it: Go big or go home, they say. This campaign positions cannabis as an aspirational lifestyle choice, wrapped in slick production values. It’s a bold departure from the Cheech & Chong stereotype.
San Diego-based Golden State Greens, aka the “cannabis you can trust” took it to the people with a 420 extravaganza, featuring a party bus, live performances, and plenty of tacos. The objective was to bring together people after the pandemic for some serious mingling and munching. The live event was supported by a social media campaign and influencer appearances on stage. The campaign hit all the right notes and the National Cannabis Industry Association nominated it as one of their top campaigns for 2021.
Why we love it: The cannabis community needs to be visible and social. Dispensaries are as much a meeting place as a store, so campaigns need to reflect the community aspect of cannabis culture.
Canadian cannabis producer Flowr has a strong track record in marketing campaigns. Its Nothing to Hide ad won the Grand Clio prize for breaking down the taboos around marijuana use. But for its 420 campaign in 2021, the brand decided to bait one of the biggest beasts in the bud industry. We’re talking about Justin Bieber. After the Canadian singer had sung about getting his weed from Canada, Flowr called on Bieber to help change Canada’s strict pardon laws, using its voice to advocate for the industry as a whole.
Why we like it: A great example of extending market share while growing the market overall. By calling out an injustice that affects all brands, Flowr took a position that did its own brand awareness no harm.
Although it’s not a cannabis producer or dispensary, Weedmaps’ mission is to provide safe, legal access to cannabis for its users. The brand hosted its own digital event called “Even Higher Together”, a follow-up to the 2020 event that featured Snoop Dogg, A$AP Rocky, and Wiz Khalifa. The 2021 event shifted away from weed royalty towards advocacy, including a Times Square placement scheduled for 4:20pm on April 20 that called for a more inclusive cannabis economy in New York City.
Why we like it: Virtual online events represent an agile strategy during the pandemic, while billboards on Times Square show how far cannabis marketing has come.
California dispensary MedMen is famous within the cannabis sector for its big budget, big ambition campaigns that arguably set the standard for the industry as a whole. That includes the $4-million “Forget Stoner” campaign in 2018 and 2019’s “New Normal” directed by Spike Jonze. Although things haven’t always been smooth sailing from a business perspective, MedMen’s campaigns plant a flag for cannabis as a lifestyle choice and an aspiration, and distinguish MedMen as a brand.
Why we like it: Cannabis marketers have to reframe the product to expand the market. MeMen’s campaigns challenge perceptions and overturn stereotypes. That’s powerful marketing at its best.
If you’re looking to promote your cannabis brand, start with expert advice on how to navigate the regulations and restrictions around cannabis marketing. Hawke Media has extensive experience of working with both CBD and cannabis brands to get the message out and attract new audiences. Work with Hawke Media, the most knowledgeable cannabis marketing agency, to deliver campaigns that educate and engage. Get in touch with our strategy and branding teams today.