Federal regulation of marijuana is an ongoing challenge for businesses operating under state law providing marijuana products for recreational use and dispensaries providing marijuana medicine to patients as compassionate caregivers. But what about the organizations working to promote these operations that are legal under state and local law?
CannaBrand is one such company, and it recently dealt with the decision to air—and then pull—what would have been the first marijuana commercial on live television.
A public relations, marketing and advertising agency, CannaBrand represents a number of clients that distribute cannabis products including Denver’s cannabis oil and vaporizer provider Neos. According to CannaBrand co-founder Olivia Mannix, ABC affiliate KMGH in Denver contacted her company to let them know that the station was open to airing or broadcasting cannabis-related commercials, under a few restrictions—that cannabis could not be visible in the ad and it could not be referred to directly.
“We put together a commercial for Neos because we thought it was a really great opportunity [to be among] the first cannabis commercials that will be broadcasted and such,” Mannix said. “But basically what happened was, it was about to run and at the very last minute, ABC got back to us and said the commercial is on hold now. So it got moved to Tuesday instead of Monday. Then on that Monday, we heard that they were being pulled altogether.”
Mannix said that her understanding of Colorado’s Amendment 64, which is the amendment that legalized the recreational us of cannabis in the state, meant that commercials were allowed as long as it can be proven that the viewers are over 21.
“ABC local channel News 7 just had a Nielsen report run and it was showing that during 10:30 p.m. Mountain Time, 97 percent of the audience is over the age of 21,” she explained. “So understandably all parties involved would think that this is legal and compliant and such. . . . It’s definitely really interesting in how it that played out and there’s definitely been quite hype about the whole thing. We are curious to see if there will be any changes made. It’s just a lot of grey areas. We are going to be working in the MED, the Marijuana Enforcement Division, to figure out a solution and really figure out how we can have defined laws so there will be no more confusion.”
If television ads are still out of the question, what about advertising on the web, on radio and podcasts?
“Some local radio channels allow for cannabis related ads, so voice overs,” Mannix said. “We can also advertise on cannabis publications, so Culture Magazine, for instance, is one. There’s the Westword here in Denver, which is more of a Denver lifestyle magazine, but they have an entire cannabis section. High Times magazine out of New York City, and then there are actually some non-cannabis-related publications that allow for it. It it’s still definitely a grey area, but I do think that over time there’s going to be more ads allowed.”
In marketing marijuana, Mannix said her company has to be hyper strategic and creative in the way they help clients get their message to their target market. “One of the biggest things that we do is digital marketing—social media management, email marketing—because we can really control the messaging,” she said. “And really, your social media pages, like your Facebook and Twitter, that’s really your brand voice and the face of your brand. So you can talk to your target market through those portals. Another great thing is PR, because you can communicate with journalists about your brand, and then you have an even broader reach because there are no restrictions with PR because it is under the First Amendment freedom of speech, so you are not really restricted on that level. But when it comes to advertising, there’s definitely a lot more restrictions, so we are definitely still in the process of figuring out the best ways to market the product.”
CannaBrand has a variety of clientele, including e-commerce boutique head shop Inhale Mercantile. “They sell really high-end glass, stash jars, cannabis accessories, so anything really cannabis related, and vaporizers,” Mannix said. Other partners include a cannabis market research company, The Brightfield Group, and online medical marijuana platform MJ Wellness. “We also work with the actual dispensaries, so help with their branding, and even design of their dispensary—the interior design aspect,” she said. “. . . So each different type of clients has a different way to market, because they have different products and then target markets, so people and demographics that they are trying to market to.”
To be in her line of work, Mannix has to also work tirelessly as an activist in the fight for legalization. “Cannabis as a plant, it’s a medicine and we just need to start treating it like that,” she said, noting that it’s restrictions like what she faced with the Neos commercial that makes it hard to legitimize cannabis.
Watch the pulled Neos ad here: