Happy 420: Here Are Some Marijuana Marketing Opportunities

High Times, Sparks & Honey Report Highlights Rising Cannabis Trends

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A marijuana grow room at Marisol Gardens in Pueblo, Colo.
A marijuana grow room at Marisol Gardens in Pueblo, Colo. Credit: Dan Skye/High Times
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It's April 20 – or 420 – and cannabis-focused media company High Times and Omnicom Group agency Sparks & Honey are tipping their hats to the unofficial marijuana holiday with the release of a new report dubbed "Rebranding Marijuana."

The report, which includes a mix of proprietary research, interviews with cannabis industry experts and survey results conducted by Sparks & Honey, revealed that Americans in 2015 spent more on marijuana ($3.4 billion) than they did on Oreos ($711 million).

"There's a huge level of acceptance to be seen in this report and a huge broadcasting of cannabis on social media," said High Times Chief Revenue Officer Matt Stang. "There's something very authentic around the use of cannabis and people embracing it now that it's [becoming] legal."

Based on survey results from 1,000 people who have used marijuana at least once in states where it's legal, 57% of respondents are interested in trying food infused with cannabis and more than half (50.7%) would like to be able to buy cannabis at their grocery story. About two out of five survey participants (41%) said they would serve marijuana at a dinner party or wedding.

One of the most interesting insights that came out of the report, according to Sean Mahoney, VP-editorial director at Sparks & Honey, is "the transition happening from the traditional aesthetic and language of what you'd call 'stoner weed' to a more premium experience."

Some examples in the report include lifestyle brand Tokyo Smoke, which sells cannabis products alongside luxury menswear and custom roast coffee beans, and Kiva Confections' gourmet chocolate edibles. Mr. Mahoney added that a number of beauty brands have been adding hemp oil from the cannabis plant into their "beautifully packaged" products, and he thinks more companies will jump on this trend soon.

But when it comes to mainstream marketers getting into the cannabis industry, Mr. Mahoney said, it's "still a very scary space."

"A big brand isn't going to all of sudden start to create a THC-infused potato chip, but there are opportunities where it seems natural where food brands can start to move into the space," he said.

High Times Chief Operating Officer Larry Linietsky said he believes major companies will start to attach themselves to cannabis-focused events, such as High Times' Cannabis Cups, because they attract 15,000 to 50,000 people.

Mr. Stang said the trick is earning acceptance from cannabis fans by "infusing by association" rather than directly launching a cannabis-based product. "It's about getting those passionate people to believe that you're passionate about what they're passionate about," he said.

Another finding from the report, based on Sparks & Honey monitoring social conversations for six months, revealed that "weed" had the highest level of mentions (21 million) out of marijuana-related terminology across all social platforms. However, entrepreneurs are 2.13 times more likely to use the term "cannabis" than any other marijuana-oriented word.

Additionally, people in creative professions are the most likely to tweet using both "cannabis" and "marijuana," and when it comes to food and weed, women tend to use the word "cannabis," while men use "marijuana."

"The insights on the social side are very valuable for traditional marketers to know the voice and phrases to use that are culturally well-received today," said Mr. Linietsky.

In terms of future trends, Mr. Mahoney said virtual reality and cannabis are very well-suited for partnerships and pairings because they're both "transformative intermediaries" that put people in altered states.