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Episode Seven: Man And Machine
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Cannabis-focused media company High Times is collaborating with Omnicom Group agency Sparks & Honey to help tell the evolving story of marijuana to brands, consumers and the advertising industry.
The project is a partnership, not a paid client-agency collaboration, according to a representative for Sparks & Honey.
The first results of the effort include the release of a report dubbed "Rebranding Marijuana," which looks into trends around the cannabis market, its consumers, its products and ways in which brands can tap in. The report is slated for release on April 20, the unofficial marijuana holiday, with "teaser" info distributed at the 2016 U.S. Cannabis Cup and Carnival in San Bernardino, Calif., April 15 through 17.
High Times Chief Operating Officer Larry Linietsky said one of the main objectives of the report is to "reposition the way consumers and the ad world look at cannabis," especially as momentum for legalization continues to grow in the U.S.
Sean Mahoney, VP-editorial director at Sparks & Honey, said the partnership brings together High Times' extensive knowledge of the cannabis community with the shop's expertise in creating cultural trend reports. The goal is to "break the taboo" around marijuana and get traditional brand marketers and advertisers more comfortable playing in the space, he said. According to recent predictions, the marijuana industry is expected to reach $36 billion by 2020, he said.
Mr. Linietsky said consumers who are interested in cannabis are "passionate about it to a very high level" and are cause-based, male-skewing and have "all of the elements of what brands hope to have that appeal to millennials already."
The report, he said, will help mainstream advertisers figure out how they can engage with cannabis consumers in an authentic way.
Less traditional companies already marketing products such as grow lights or edibles want to "learn how to advertise in a bigger way and they need access to people at big agencies over time," Mr. Linietsky added.
"These influences go in both directions," said Mr. Mahoney. "People in the space are moving out, and people outside are moving in."
Sparks & Honey will share the report at events, and High Times will feature it in print, online and across its social platforms. While there will be "a little bit of paid" advertising behind the report, Mr. Mahoney said they plan to focus on grassroots efforts and earned media. High Times' readership and fan base across social media, which includes 940,000 Instagram followers, more than 5.3 million Facebook likes and nearly 600,000 Twitter followers, will also play a major part in promoting the initiative.
"There are a lot of people who are incredibly interested in how this will affect them as a brand and how to position themselves now that [marijuana] really is becoming legal, so it's about how they leverage their brand and cannabis and become part of the story," said High Times Chief Revenue Officer Matt Stang.