Several times a year, Ad Age creates and shares an exclusive trend report with Ad Age Insider subscribers. Already an Insider? Instantly download the trend report here. Or learn more about Ad Age membership levels and benefits here. This month, we’re taking a look at the how the legal cannabis industry is focusing its marketing efforts on women.
Inside the new world of women and weed
Stroll around an urban neighborhood in the U.S., and you’ll see people hitting vape pens and signs for CBD in shop windows everywhere. Yes, the cannabis industry is definitely flourishing. As more states legalize marijuana—it's currently legal in 10 states plus Washington, D.C., for recreational use, and in 33 for medical use—brands and marketers are hopping on the green train, too, bringing it into the mainstream for the first time in U.S. history.
While there are still serious social issues and inequities surrounding marijuana use in the U.S., and we still have a long road ahead to change that, it’s also true that cannabis has grown up. Images of booby blondes serving weed on silver platters have given way to a new, sleeker and decidedly more sophisticated cannabis culture—and women are the fastest-growing target audience. Cheech and Chong are out, and Abbi and Ilana from "Broad City" are in. Even Martha Stewart has gotten in on the act.
A March 2019 report called “What Women Want in Cannabis,” from Headset, a firm that analyzes weed consumption, found that women make up one third of the cannabis market (around 31 percent). That’s still less than men, but considering that previous reports have found a much wider gap between men and women who use cannabis, it’s significant.
That same report found that women prefer to lump weed into the “wellness” category, going for edibles, topicals, tinctures and sublinguals that help promote good sleep, curb anxiety and increase sexual health. In fact, a different report from the cannabis market research company BDS Analytics found that 36 percent of women who had used cannabis during the past six months said that it improved their sexual experiences.
Good branding and marketing have been key to bringing women into the cannabis conversation. “Traditionally, marketing weed to men has either been about projecting fantasy, or appealing to the everyday guy that men feel like they could smoke a bowl with. But women want to know what gets the job done without having to do too much work to know what we’re going to get,” explains Mary Pryor, CEO and co-founder of Cannaclusive, a nonprofit that supports diversity, inclusion, and education in the cannabis industry. For example, rather than stick with traditional strain names like Sour Diesel, which historically have been associated with that old-school stoner sensibility, the weed company Canndescent named their strains after the feeling state or activity each is intended to induce, including Calm, Create, Connect, Charge and Cruise.
The actual look and feel of the product appeals to women, too. Basically, the more sophisticated and discreet, the better. Companies such as Beboe, Van der Pop, Tetra and Canndescent produce sleek accessories, including rose-gold vaporizer pens and geometric glass ashtrays, that look like everything else that’s already in their customers' lives. “Moms really love Beboe, because they recognize themselves in our products, and they aren’t ashamed to talk about them,” explains Beboe’s VP of Marketing Kiana Anvaripour.
Women are also shattering the so-called “grass ceiling” for the entire cannabis industry. The latest research from Marijuana Business Daily found that women held 27 percent of the executive-level roles in the industry in 2017, which is a higher ration than in other businesses overall (21 percent, according to Forbes). Many theorize that it’s because the industry is still so new that there aren’t as many institutional biases that prevent women from rising to the top. Others guess that it could be because women simply love the work. “Cannabis makes so many of us feel better,” explains Ann Skalski, chief brand officer at the luxury vaporizer company Double Barrel. “And when you have someone who is so connected to the end goal, someone who cares about it and can bring an acute understanding as to why a consumer may choose this over that, it’s a perfect match.”