Los Angeles-based cannabis retailer MedMen has been leading the charge to bring marijuana into the mainstream—a market estimated to hit $75 billion by 2030, says investment firm Cowen & Co.
When recreational marijuana became legal in California this year, L.A. customers who visited MedMen stores waited in block-long lines, not unlike the mobs seen at iPhone or Supreme drops. Inside, they found sales reps welcoming them into a space featuring wooden walls and elegant glass-topped display cases holding sniffable bud samples and iPads with more info on the goods.
Such upscale design elements have helped MedMen transcend any seedy, black-market stereotypes and led some to label it the Apple or Starbucks of weed.
"We're a retailer and we happen to sell cannabis," says Chief Marketing Officer David Dancer, who last served as executive VP and head of marketing at Teleflora.
CEO Adam Bierman and President Andrew Modlin, the company's co-founders, have largely focused their efforts on shaping MedMen as a retail brand. This year, the company debuted two major campaigns seeking to destigmatize cannabis. The first, which dropped in April, depicted folks from all walks of life—a cop, a coach, a designer and an enterpreneur—standing behind the scratched-out word "stoner."
In August, the brand introduced its largest marketing effort to date—a $4 million campaign that displays the word "cannabis" in large letters against vibrant photography of consumers enjoying L.A. locations like Beverly Hills.
MedMen also recently expanded its ads to Las Vegas with billboards depicting "locals" (e.g., an Elvis impersonator) that point to the chain's newest retail location in Paradise, Nevada.
In both the ads and real life, consumers emerge from MedMen stores carrying the brand's signature red zippered totes. "If this were 10 years ago, you'd be getting it in a brown bag, but now [our shoppers can say], 'I can purchase cannabis and be proud of it,'" Dancer says.
MedMen has worked steadily to increase its ad presence despite regulatory hurdles. The brand has been featured in national spots on Sirius XM. It broke through in terrestrial radio earlier this year on San Diego alternative station 91X.
In April, MedMen partnered with ENTtech Media, the company behind Paper magazine, to create Ember, a glossy magazine focused on the cannabis lifestyle with informational pieces that also happen to promote wares sold at its stores. Last month, Ember expanded to become a digital content platform.
The amped up marketing coincides with the company's explosive growth. According to the company's most recent financial statement, MedMen saw annual systemwide revenues of $39.8 million for the fiscal year ended June 30, up from $2.7 million in fiscal year 2017. MedMen currently operates 19 retail and manufacturing facilities in California, Nevada, Florida and New York, with Arizona and Illinois to follow soon.
In August, MedMen acquired medical cannabis firm PharmaCann for $682 million, increasing to 12 the number of states in which it has licenses. And just last month, MedMen debuted its own high-end cannabis product line, Statemade.
Still, there are growing pains. MedMen has yet to become profitable, and last month the company revised down its fundraising round by almost half and saw the departure of CFO James Parker. A Yelp review for its first retail location in West Hollywood also crystallizes what may be an issue for the brand as more states legalize recreational use: "Now that it's open to the public it's like the Upside Down from ["Stranger Things"]. Totally packed and chaotic, so many people at one time you can't even see the product, every time of day the store seems completely picked-through."
In 2019, marketing spending will likely increase, but Dancer says the approach will be tactical. "The $4 million budget of the 'cannabis' campaign is appropriate for today," he says. "But as we go from 15 stores to 66 stores, I want to make sure we're not replicating for the sake of replicating, but making decisions for efficiencies and returns."