It’s quite an experience to be living in Seattle, where marijuana has been legalized for recreational purposes. However, retail shops aren’t open yet, and communities and the State of Washington are still passing other laws to cope with the realities of this new business.
And there’s also one thing missing right now: Marketing and advertising on a grander, more sophisticated scale for marijuana-related businesses. This article in Ad Age only gives a hint of what’s happening, or not happening.
The opportunity is there for marketing and advertising folks to gain new business and do great creative, but it requires a level of understanding and maturity that the conversation around marijuana hasn’t reached yet for many people. Potential customers are likely to be those people seeking more reassurance about what they’re buying and who they’re buying from, not people who already have their own sources to buy pot.
There’s still a stigma attached with even discussing cannabis. Even legitimate journalists and news anchors can’t resist making Cheech & Chong references or Cheetos jokes. I think savvy marketers who can rise above those cliches have a real shot at changing the way we think about marijuana.
For ad agencies, the fuzzy legality of working with marijuana-related businesses is holding many people back. With local, state and federal laws often in conflict with one another, there’s a lot of real risk involved. Like many businesses, ad agencies are smart to be skeptical, and for the biggest reason of all: Financial. Most marijuana businesses use cash for everything from paying their suppliers to paying their taxes. There are many nascent startups who can’t guarantee they’ll be in business for long, and paying their agencies may not be a priority. Couple that with evolving tax and liability implications, and it’s no surprise many are taking a wait-and-see approach.
From a creative standpoint, the look and tone is also evolving. It appears that graphic designers and other folks are tapping into either the stereotypical “420” stoner mentality, or trying to pass off an old-world “medicinal apothecary” look and feel for medical marijuana shops, which can make the whole concept look like snake oil. And at the moment, most marijuana-related businesses aren’t scaling beyond their cities.
Still, the market potential is huge. Growing, distributing and retailing are just the start. Banking, insurance, security, payroll, legal, and other services specializing in marijuana businesses will need marketing and advertising. There will be well-funded entrepreneurs looking for their piece of the action, and there will be big corporations seeking to cash in as well.
And those will require sophisticated, experienced advertising and marketing people to help. Language, visuals, and the brand stories involved will have to reflect a new conversation people will have as they discover they can buy marijuana legally and without stigma. And it’s both an online and bricks-and-mortar need. It’s a great creative challenge, and heck, I wouldn’t mind taking it on.