Weed may be mainstream, but it’s still a challenge for marketers

by | Nov 8, 2019 | Analysis, Public Relations

The weed industry is booming and we have found ourselves in the middle of a cannabis goldrush. More and more states are legalizing cannabis not only for medical treatment, but for recreational use as well. Dispensaries are popping up everywhere. Lines are circling around the block as consumers look to participate in the newly legal movement. Weed, apparently, is becoming “mainstream.” But as anyone who has worked in marketing or advertising prior to the cannabis boom will tell you, it’s much easier to implement marketing plans when your client isn’t selling a federally illegal and highly-regulated drug.

Effective marketing and advertising are crucial to any company’s success, especially a new company. According to Grandview Research, the legal cannabis industry will be worth $66.3 billion by 2025. But advertising and marketing regulations are putting tight constraints on how, when and where marketers can talk about their cannabis business.

Advertising restrictions are nothing new—restrictions and regulations exist for all kinds of industries

Tobacco, alcohol, etc., so it’s no surprise that cannabis is facing similar hurdles. Federal law, for instance, restricts how tobacco products may be advertised or promoted, including restrictions on free samples, displays, and sponsorships. Alcohol advertising restrictions often narrow down by type, with malt beverages and beer falling under different rules or guidelines than wine or hard liquor. Now, a third type of product is coming into the mix. Cannabis regulations are so strict that many social media and marketing platforms restrict or outright ban cannabis advertisements. This often poses a challenge for marketers in the cannabis space. What can they say? And where can they say it?

Typical and hold-true marketing tactics are no longer relevant in the cannabis space. The days of simply defining your audience, building a strategy and executing a marketing campaign to millions of consumers doesn’t work here. Many marketers and PR pros are finding it difficult to weave through the tangle of advertising and marketing restrictions that state and federal legislators have placed on the cannabis industry.

So how can you, as a cannabis marketer, get your voice heard in an increasingly competitive cannabis environment? By getting back to the basics of brand building:

Retail is king

It’s a bit insane that a progressive industry in 2019 has us talking about the future of brick and mortar, but the dispensary is where a lot of your marketing can happen. From product placement to budtender relationships, your story has to come alive in the retail space and a major part of that is good distribution.

Influencers can spread your message

One of the newest forms of building visibility is influencer marketing. The cannabis industry is loaded with influencers who have millions of followers on their social media platforms. Consider partnering with these powerful voices to spread your message.

Craft your brand

With cannabis turning into a commodity, and so many brands popping up across the country, it’s important to spend the time to craft your brand story from seed to sale and give consumers a reason to evangelize the story to their friends. Killer packaging is key because it’s the one thing that can explain why you do what you do without help from anybody else.


One of the oldest forms of advertising (billboards) and can actually move the dial depending on how you target locations and what your message is. Because the path to purchase can become convoluted, brand recognition may be your best way to track marketing success.

Manage your online profiles

Online sites like Leafly, BlackbirdGo and Weedmaps (full disclosure, I work for Blackbird) are great places to set up and maintain brand profiles. This allows you to reach cannabis open to consumers while managing high quality photos that will ultimately end up on dispensary menus.

Social media helps you tell your story

Social media companies do not allow cannabis advertising on their platforms, so it’s important to make a concerted effort channels with high-quality brand photography and video since it’s one of the places the most potential consumers will hear about your products. Some of the best brands on social turn out to be the most successful, like Beboe, Dosist and Bloom Farms. All invested heavily in a strong consistent visual brand narrative and it’s paid off handsomely.

And it really matters to your audience. According to Smart Bird Social, content with relevant images get 94% more views than content without relevant images. So by including engaging images with your posts, you not only help attract new followers and customers, but also keep the attention of your existing audience.

Lobby for change

Lastly, we’re in an industry that is far more safe than alcohol in terms of death and violence. It’s unacceptable that cannabis is blocked from advertising on major display networks and social media sites. It’s on us to enact change and help more people learn about this largely beneficial plant.

Allbriton Robbins
Allbriton Robbins is the Creative Director at Blackbird Logistics and was formerly at Standard Farms, 72andSunny, The Barbarian Group and Google Creative Lab. He’s also a marketing advisor for the psilocybin research non-profit Unlimited Sciences.