Pot or Oreos? How Cannabis Marketing is becoming the Next Big Phenomenon
The Cannabis prohibition has been changing over the past few years. In 2015, Americans bought 5 times more marijuana than Oreos, based on research by Statista. Today, in over 28 states, the substance has become legal in some capacity. As legislation takes form across the US, we can’t help but wonder how this high-demand product will be marketed and regulated.
Advertising today is allowed in states that have legalized marijuana. But its not as simple as you’d think. Since this law has passed on a state-level basis, marijuana is still against the law on a federal level. Media owners who agree to advertise the product are essentially endangering their FCC (Federal Communication Commission) license. This license prohibits the advertising of “schedule I drugs”.
This main roadblock paves the way for digital marketing channels to become a primary resource in the cannabis market, but here as well, things aren’t easy. Social networks like Facebook and Instagram are quick to deny these posts. Federal law grants advertising exceptions based on “state authorization”, but these tech titans fear being held accountable for aiding the sale of drugs. These networks policies state that they deny paid posts that “constitute, facilitate, or promote illegal products, services or activities”—including marijuana. Non-paid advertisements are currently used, but many cannabis companies have had accounts blocked with no warning by the social media companies. With most traditional media companies rejecting these clients, the industry resorts to using print publications and industry related sites.
This budding industry has come a long way. Matthew Karnes, founder of GreenWave- a financial consultancy, estimates that by 2021 sales will reach $30 billion, and marketing will total a whopping $75 million. With these numbers, it seems inevitable that cannabis will be fully legalized at some point in the near future. But what will a legal “pot” brand look like?
In an article by AdWeek from 2015, Catherine Halaby looks at this process and remarks: “In some ways, the new cannabis market will mirror the end of Prohibition. But in one important way it is unique: Americans have never shopped for weed before. Appealing to consumers while appeasing regulators is a demanding balance exercise”.
This process will continue to evolve over the next few years as we see what direction this product will take. Will it fall in the same pits as cigarettes and alcohol did? Or will it manage to position itself as a pharmaceutical? Over the next few months we will dive into this topic over a series of posts and discover what and who will shape this multi-billion-dollar industry on our doorstep.