Mainstream Brands Target Cannabis Consumers

Posted by Darby Cox on

by TJ Stouder and Colby McKenzie, guest contributors 

The fast food chain Jack in the Box recently made news by directly marketing to cannabis consumers with Munchie Meals. But Jack is not the first guy to target this demographic.

We have recently seen low-key nods to cannabis consumers, such as Taco Bell’s "Fourth Meal" campaign and a number of other brands making subtle 4/20 comments. Others have taken a more aggressive approach, like Netflix partnering with a Los Angeles dispensary to offer strains inspired by its shows.

There is an understandable appeal in targeting this ever-growing demographic. The average cannabis consumer is educated, impulsive and has disposable incomethe dream target audience for media. However, with cannabis remaining federally illegal, are ads targeting the cannabis community too risky?

Megabrands have spent too much time and money building a household name to risk harm to their brand equity among the staunch anti-cannabis. As with other political hot topics, many of the brands who have taken steps to target the cannabis community have seen their social media efforts turn into unwanted political debate.

In response, brands that see the huge value in capturing the cannabis community have been forced to utilize more covert tactics, mainly leveraging localized and small reach advertising vehicles. However, these risk-averse tactics often leave value on the table with well-conceived campaigns like Totino’s #betterwhenbaked.

The good news for brands eager to gain favor with the cannabis community is that national perception of cannabis continues to improve. The majority of American adults have supported legalization since 2013, with nearly 65 percent indicating approval in the most recent Gallup polls.

With 29 states plus Washington, DC currently allowing some level of cannabis use and eight permitting full recreational use, it’s hard to ignore this growing market. As the topic becomes less taboo even among the more conservative, the potential for brand blowback continues to decline, making the risk reward analysis all the more tantalizing.

As more and more brands begin to take the calculated risk of being a first mover to gain the acceptance and following of the illusive cannabis culture, there are ways to hedge risk to brand equity while still reaching millions of cannabis consumers with an unadulterated message.

Companies can advertise on digital real estate that is likely only seen by cannabis consumers. High Times, the pioneer cannabis magazine and website, is viewed in large part by only cannabis consumers, offers a digital platform.

An even safer digital medium is place-based advertising within the actual dispensary. Enlighten, an in-dispensary media network, is partnered with over 300 dispensaries around the nation and garners millions of monthly impressions.

Within the four walls of a dispensary, where only of-age cannabis consumers can legally gain access, a brand is assured that its message is only seen by legal cannabis consumers. This offers a huge advantage for those bold brands looking to reach cannabis consumers with a tailored message without fear that their advertisement may be seen by the young brand loyalist or the anti-cannabis smear artist. It serves as the perfect medium to target an extremely lucrative demographic...and only that demographic.

For the first time since the 1930’s, federal legalization of cannabis is on the horizon. The discussion is no longer under our breath, it’s in the office. Media networks can’t stop talking about it. Celebrities are taking home cannabis gift boxes at the Oscars.

This movement is no longer an if, but a when. The time is now to be the brands that win the hearts and pockets of cannabis culture.

The exciting quest now is to see which brand will push to the next level and what great campaigns will we see next.

T.J. Stouder is the co-founder of Greenthink. Colby McKenzie is the Interim CEO of Enlighten. 

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