Designing in a restricted market

By Nick Holt, Director of Brand Creative at Weedmaps

Building and maintaining a brand is tough, but building and maintaining a brand in cannabis is even tougher. From the outside, the cannabis industry may look like a shiny new rocket bound for public offerings, nationwide adult-use legalization, and smoking from a solid gold bong with Snoop Dogg and Seth Rogen. However, it most certainly is not. Having spent a couple years observing and learning the industry, here’s what I’ve come to understand.

I should preface this by saying the cannabis industry is in its infancy and only just beginning to crawl, let alone walk on its own.

With that in mind, I ask you to tell me about a brand that was able to raise brand awareness — let alone launch a campaign — without the ability to utilize paid efforts on any major social platforms.

Better yet, tell me about a brand that is successful at designing and marketing their ad (a display banner or even a 30 second TV spot), but it can’t include the products they sell or their logo in its entirety. Imagine if you could only use the N and E in “NIKE.” Or imagine Postmates not being able to show food in their ads.

Finally, tell me about a brand that significantly increased its revenue year-over-year during a global pandemic, while only spending media dollars across a few small digital networks.

Much like the stigma that’s been haunting cannabis for the last century (thank you Henry Anslinger, Richard Nixon, and Ronald Reagan), we’ve really only made a few breakthroughs in the “advertising space” in recent years. In legal states, out-of-home media has for the most part accepted the industry along with a few key digital publishers in the “adult” category. But outside of that, the industry struggles to look and operate like a traditional consumer or technology brand would.

You may be asking, why does cannabis advertising need a national stage? Do you know about the hundreds of Black and Brown families that have been specifically affected by the War on Drugs? Are you aware California still restricts 70% of the state to buy, sell, and deliver cannabis after it was passed by 57.13% in 2016? Are you aware Oklahoma, of all states, has by far the healthiest cannabis industry in the country? These are just a few things that many people outside the industry are surprised to learn, and that’s not even mentioning the wellness benefits of the plant.

Fortunately, we are making strides as a society. Five states passed cannabis legalization ballot measures this past election, and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris promised that a Biden administration would decriminalize cannabis and expunge criminal records. Additionally, as we move into a new presidency and stigmatization continues to decline, we find partners that are willing to work with us. During a recent national partnership with Triller for the Mike Tyson vs Roy Jones Jr. fight, we were able to come as ourselves and truly articulate our brand’s mission through our Fighters for Change spot, narrated by Nas, that aired across multiple linear TV outlets. Through this national introduction (a first for us), we were able to push into new digital publishers that have normally passed on our brand due to the plant still being a Schedule 1 substance nationally.

So where am I going with all of this? Simple. If you think you can design and market your brand without paid social, national TV, and most digital publishers, using an abbreviated version of your logo that no one knows and still be successful, I will buy you dinner and your favorite flower to smoke after the meal.

This is not an attack on any major brand or network, just some insight for those that may be wondering what it’s like to be a brand marketer or creative in the cannabis industry. It’s certainly been educational and extremely challenging for me at times, but also very rewarding to be pushing for something so integral to our country’s history, as well as driving efforts in support of the LGBTQ+, Black, and Veteran communities.

There’s still a long way to go in this industry, but if you like challenging problems to solve, software platforms fueling the entire purchase funnel, passionate creatives, and partnering with communities to enact change, check out our careers page to see if you may be a good fit.

Weedmaps is a community where businesses and consumers can search and discover #cannabis products.