Article by Colin Bambury, High! Canada
Recreational cannabis will be legal in Canada by July of 2018. This new industry represents a giant opportunity for budding entrepreneurs in The Great White North . One of the main considerations is how this legal marijuana will be marketed to the public. This article will explore advertising and branding under the current medical system in order to predict the future recreational landscape.
Licensed producers are currently severely restricted in their advertising capabilities under the ACMPR. There is a prohibition on publishing any advertisement or using promotional messaging. Health Canada is most concerned about marketing that uses false or misleading claims. Licensed producers that fail to adhere to the restrictions can be fined up to $5 million dollars and/or imprisonment for up to 2 years.
Regardless, licensed producers have found ways to build and spread their brand. Social media is proving to be a useful tool for those that choose to utilize it. Non-promotional information is not considered advertising and is therefore allowed. LPs have begun building, educating and entertaining audiences on platforms like Instagram and Twitter. Social allows these companies to answer their customer’s questions and address potential PR problems before they grow.
Social media advertising in general is still relatively new and unregulated. Since these websites are privately owned entities, it is hard for Health Canada and advertising regulators to monitor them. As long as licensed producers don’t break the rules of the individual platform, they are able to build a community using them.
It is important to note that both Facebook and Instagram’s advertising policies state, “adverts must not promote the sale or use of illegal, prescription or recreational drugs.” The restrictions specifically outline that no medical or recreational cannabis, smoking or accessories are allowed. Licensed producers can create lifestyle and informational content on these channels as long as they don’t directly encourage the use of cannabis. They are not able to sponsor or boost posts to reach new customers. All of their following must be grown organically.
Along with social media, LPs have found another loophole to creatively market. Cannabis lifestyle brands have the ability to advertise, unlike the companies that are actually selling the plant. Licensed producers have started teaming up with lifestyle brands that can market their products for them. This marketing technique is known as “branded cannabis”.
The first licensed producer to implement this strategy was Aphria, one of Canada’s largest cannabis corporations. They partnered with Tokyo Smoke, a coffee and cannabis lifestyle brand, to create and market 4 medical marijuana strains. The kit features unique Tokyo Smoke packaging with custom crafted black glass jars and special welcome accessories.
Tokyo Smoke branded each of the four strains with a different colour and name describing their effects. The “Go” strain is made to energize, while “Relax” intends to put your body and mind at ease. Their “Relief” strain is a high-CBD sativa and is branded as a “natural antidote to daily intensities”. Finally, “Balance” is a 1:1 hybrid strain that creates a “refined rhythm between recreation and imagination”.
This branding intends to create an emotional connection between the consumer and the product. It is arguably much more effective than simply stating the strain’s name and statistics on the packaging.
This deal created upside for Aphria because Tokyo Smoke was able to advertise and promote the new branded cannabis. Aphria didn’t have to worry about violating the terms of marketing under the ACMPR and were still able to sell more product as a result. The partnership also created a lot of earned media for both organizations.
Another example of branded cannabis in Canada is happening right now. Van Der Pop is Seattle’s leading female-focused cannabis lifestyle brand (acquired by Tokyo Smoke). Van Der Pop announced two branded strains of cannabis in partnership with federally-licensed producer WeedMD.
The products will launch alongside an event titled “Women and Weed” presented by Van Der Pop on Nov. 7 in Toronto. VdP is utilizing event marketing to create a community around a meaningful brand and ultimately sell more medical marijuana with WeedMD. It will be interesting to see if more Canadian licensed producers decide to follow this trend.
To summarize, the current strategies that licensed producers are using to market their products are through social media and branded cannabis partnerships. Social media allows LPs to create lifestyle and informational content and communicate with their customers. Branded cannabis partnerships are beneficial because lifestyle brands are able to advertise and operate outside of the ACMPR regulations.
Stakeholders and entrepreneurs are patiently waiting for the official word on advertising regulations surrounding recreational cannabis. Assuming that many of the same restrictions will apply, it is important to examine the present marketing programs employed by licensed producers. As the market opens up, the companies that are able to build brand and authentically connect with their customers will win.
Please feel free to reach out if you have any questions about cannabis marketing.