April 20, or 4/20 -- the unofficial cannabis culture holiday -- is here, meaning that plenty of pot jokes will surely fill social media. But weed wisecracks aside, it's becoming clear that cannabis industry marketing is finally growing up.
As it navigates state-specific regulations and varying degrees of state market maturity, not only is much of the industry dedicated to raising the bar for branding, it is recognizing the need to educate consumers, and cater to demographic groups such as baby boomers or seniors interested in cannabis as a sleep aid, or yoga enthusiasts looking for a mental enhancement to their physical practice.
When Washington's Mirth Provisions licensed its Drift product -- which delivers cannabanoids directly into the bloodstream via an under-the-tongue spray -- in Arizona, the distributor there began throwing parties to promote the brand. Mirth and its agency, Sockeye, were less than thrilled. The party vibe was not how they wanted the brand positioned. Mirth is not alone in its efforts to hoist the legal cannabis industry out of its "let's get wasted" illegal past.
Andy Fraser, CEO of Portland, OR agency Sockeye calls the various characteristics defining each state market as "microclimates of activity." In the case of his client's brand distribution in Arizona, he said, "The Mirth Group said, 'Hey, we're working very hard to define a thoughtful, sophisticated brand, and we need it to feel that way." Promo parties didn't send the right message, which for Mirth's products including Legal, a line of low-sugar cannabis-infused fruit drinks, should be smarter and more nuanced.
For instance, while a video produced for the brand last year is set at a get-together, the vibe is less Spuds MacKenzie rowdiness and more middle-age weekend afternoon chilling.
"We would not frown upon the party use, but it needs to show up in a way that is intelligent and unexpected, as a guideline," said Fraser. "The challenge is making sure the branding is consistent with the mothership."
As one of the first two states to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012 along with Washington, Colorado is among the industry's most developed markets. That evolution has forced cannabis brands to "meet the market where they are," said Patrick Rea, co-founder and managing director of cannabis industry business accelerator CanopyBoulder.
From Black Market to Boomers
The highest growth category in the past year has been baby boomers, he said. "That's very different than it was the year prior, when it was still black market consumers converting over into the legal market," he said.