Why Marketing Cannabis is a Conundrum in Canada

This year an industry expected to be worth $6.5bn by 2020 will be created in Canada. The legalization of recreational cannabis on October 17, 2018 marks the dawn of a new age, free from stigma or stereotype, in a country that on average consumed over 20 grams of marijuana per person last year.

A bounty of businesses are primed to appeal to an array of audiences, from the convalescent patient to the curious parent, and everyone in between. As the demographics and products within the recreational cannabis market will be so diverse, cultivating brand awareness and differentiation will be essential. Those first to market will flourish and rise high above the late bloomers.

However, under the Cannabis Act marketing marijuana will be strictly regulated. Advertising rules will be similar to those placed on cigarettes, demanding packaging of a single uniform colour, without image or logo, and carrying a health warning on a bright yellow background. Any violation will carry severe penalties, with perpetrators facing fines of up to $5m and three years in jail.

Despite the need to grow brand awareness and encourage loyalty, companies will be prohibited from advertising in the public domain. Cannabis marketing will not be able to leverage social media, use celebrity or character endorsements, or promote products in a manner that evokes any emotion – positive or negative.

As a result, companies will need to rely on innovate strategies to reach consumers and promote their brand. A few savvy companies have already strived to get their name out there before the law takes hold. Tweed sponsored Field Trip Music Festival and Pride Toronto, the latter garnering attention from Health Canada, who issued a public statement raising concern. Under the Cannabis Act, sponsoring events will be strictly prohibited and the punishments doled out by regulators will be devastating.

We know that cannabis can change people’s lives for the better. But with restrictions on traditional advertising and digital media, how can cannabis brands tell their stories, create conversations, and ultimately connect with many millions of cannabis consumers in Canada?

“In many spheres, cannabis companies will have to combat ingrained prejudice and stigma, a hangover from centuries of prohibition and will need to not only legitimize their brand, but the industry itself.”

CANNABIS PR IS ESSENTIAL

A creative communications strategy is the most effective way to amplify a brand’s message. Most reporters from the mainstream media have only recently been introduced to the cannabis industry and will look to PR professionals to act as advisors and educators. In many spheres, cannabis companies will have to combat ingrained prejudice and stigma, a hangover from centuries of prohibition and will need to not only legitimize their brand, but the industry itself.

With positive and polished stories, public relations can create narratives that not only engage, but compel audiences. Through subtle yet clever content that doesn’t implicitly sell products and uses intelligent angles that subvert that status quo, cannabis companies will be able to generate brand awareness and equity, without breaching rules or regulations.

The best agencies not only understand the intricacies of cannabis legislation, including what brands can and can’t do, they’re also experts on edibles, irrigation and top trends in the industry. They have their fingers on the pulse, and are constantly monitoring industry news to identify what’s happening in the market, the political environment and its potential impact.

By understanding the dynamics within the various market segments, from the casual consumer to the committed connoisseur, Cannabis PR agencies will execute media strategies that act as catalysts for brand building, awareness and recognition.

Despite restrictions, the budding recreational marijuana market is a fantastic opportunity for everyone involved. A strategic communications program will be integral to success in this regulated market and everyone from farmers to pharmacists will need PR agencies to act as a trusted resource on advertising rules, and more importantly to reach consumers.

By cultivating conversations that are as insightful as they are intriguing, the cannabis industry holds immense potential for both marijuana and public relations to grow together.