Former Vice executive Ryan Archibald and Ted Chung, a business partner of Snoop Dogg, have joined forces to launch a new global agency specializing in cannabis marketing. The shop, called Gram By Gram, has already inked a significant client–Canopy Growth, a Canadian cannabis firm recently described by Bloomberg News as the world’s most valuable pot company.
Archibald, formerly president of Vice Canada, left the company about a year ago after a 14-year career that included establishing Vice’s in-house agency Virtue in Canada, led by Badr El Fekkak. El Fekkak joins Gram By Gram as chief strategy officer. Chung is co-founder of Los Angeles-based multicultural shop Cashmere. He also co-founded Merry Jane, a digital media platform dedicated to cannabis culture, with Snoop Dog.
Gram By Gram, whose named is derived from how marijuana quantities are measured, will operate as an “agnostic creative division of Merry Jane,” according to a press release, which bills the shop as “the world’s first global cannabis agency” with offices in Toronto, Los Angeles, Mexico City and London. Gram By Gram expects to have 50 employees hired by the end of the year across its four offices, Archibald said. Services will include advertising, innovation, content development, branding, design, social strategy and experiential, as well as business-to-business services.
While cannabis is quickly entering the mainstream–it is now legal for recreational use in 10 U.S. states--pot branding remains in its infancy. But the potential is immense: U.S. consumer spending on legal cannabis is expected to reach $22.2 billion by 2022, according to a report by Arcview Market Research and BDS Analytics recently cited by Bloomberg. The global marijuana market is expected to be valued at $166 billion by 2025, according to figures cited by Gram By Gram.
But traditional ad agencies have yet to make big inroads into cannabis. Major holding companies have been reluctant to dive head-first into pursuing pot clients because marijuana remains illegal federally in the U.S. The caution stems from banking laws that could expose cannabis vendors to money laundering charges. Legislation working its way through Congress could give legal cover to agency involvement, sparking a battle for potentially lucrative pot brand accounts.
Gram by Gram is positioning itself as more nimble than traditional shops, with expertise in pot culture stemming from its ties to Merry Jane. The four-year-old media property includes coverage of cannabis-related topics touching on everything from wellness and tech to food, fashion and music. Gram By Gram’s relationship with Merry Jane is analogous to how Virture operates within Vice, Archibald said in an interview.
Gram By Gram and Merry Jane “complement each other well,” he says. “We can tap into Merry Jane’s media and publishing network to help reach an audience if need be,” he says. But “we operate separately,” he adds, noting that clients may opt to use media outside of Merry Jane.
Archibald declined to get into specifics about the Canopy account, but said the agency will be charged with helping the company expand beyond Canadian markets. Canopy’s financial backers include Corona-owner Constellation Brands. In April, Canopy announced plans to acquire Acreage Holdings Inc., one of the largest pot firms in the U.S., in a deal that is contingent on marijuana becoming legal nationally.
Gram by Gram will not limit itself to cannabis clients. Plans include luring any brand interested in tying itself to pot culture. The shop already counts Jack in the Box as a client. The fast food marketer has previously worked with Merry Jane on a “munchie meal” promotion aimed at cannabis fans.