4 Novel Marijuana Marketing Strategies

From airplane banners to ‘adopting’ highways, cannabis companies are getting their names out in creative ways

by Roger Fillion

When football fans tailgating before several Seattle Seahawks games in the past two years looked to the sky, they saw a small plane pulling a large banner with a cannabis company’s logo.

When motorists drive the main interstates around the Denver metro area, they’re greeted by “adopt-a-highway” signs featuring the names of marijuana retailers.

And when runners in the Chicago Marathon last October opened the swag bag they were given for participating, they discovered – among other items – a pamphlet about Illinois’ medical cannabis program inside, courtesy a local MMJ clinic.

Welcome to the new world of marijuana advertising and marketing, where cannabis companies are increasingly exploring creative ways to pitch their products and messages.

Traditional companies often use such mediums for marketing, but these options are largely a novelty within the cannabis industry. The reasons are twofold: Many mainstream marketing mediums typically rejected marijuana companies in the past because of the stigma surrounding cannabis, while at the same time MJ businesses simply never considered options beyond print, social media and billboards.

The emerging use of these creative marketing options by marijuana companies underscores how the industry is evolving and becoming more accepted. Cannabis companies should take note, especially at a time when social media giants including Facebook and Instagram have shuttered the accounts of cannabis businesses.

Below is a closer look at four unique marketing strategies (for the marijuana industry, at least) cannabis companies have used to build name recognition, as well as a look at the related costs and impact.

Company

LivWell Enlightened Health

Business

Medical and recreational cannabis retailer, operating 14 stores across Colorado

Headquarters

Denver metro area

Idea

Participant in Colorado’s Adopt-a-Highway program, designed to keep roadsides clean. Last October, LivWell sponsored two adjoining sections of westbound Interstate 70 in Denver, a major artery in the city that also leads to the airport.

“The idea was to get our brand in front of visitors coming into Denver from the airport,” Matthew Givner, LivWell’s marketing director, said in an email.

Goal

Givner said the program “demonstrates our involvement in the community and our ongoing commitment to making a positive impact on the areas in which we do business.”

Cost

LivWell declined to specify. But Colorado Department of Transportation spokeswoman Amy Ford said the cost of sponsoring a “prime” stretch of a busy highway like I-70 in Denver runs $425 a month, or $5,100 a year, along with a one-time fee of $875.

Impact

“While it is difficult to match this sponsorship with any direct increase in business, our stores throughout Denver have all reported customers mentioning this to us during their visits,” Givner said.

Advice

“I would recommend cannabis companies seek out opportunities like Adopt-A-Highway that enable them to get their brand in front of relevant audiences in ways that demonstrate their commitment to being positive members of the communities in which they operate,” Givner said.

Company

Dàmà Cannabis Products

Business

Marijuana grower and processor

Headquarters

Seattle

Idea

Hired a plane to fly a banner with the company’s logo over CenturyLink Stadium, home to the National Football League’s Seattle Seahawks. The 30-foot by 100-foot banner was flown “eight or nine times” before preseason and regular season games in 2014 and 2015, Dàmà President Dax Colwell said. “It was basically targeted around the tailgating parties.”

Goal

“Our marketing campaign was built around normalizing cannabis,” Colwell said. “We were able to fly a banner along with others like Geico,” he added, noting that the banner strategy “put us on a level” with a major insurer.

Cost

“Several hundred dollars an hour to fly the banner,” Colwell said. Paul Davidson, a sales rep for Airsign, the Florida aerial advertising company Dàmà used, said the cost of an airplane banner itself can range from $1,000 to $10,000. Three hours of “air time” typically run about $2,700.

Impact

Dàmà was unable to provide a dollar figure. But Colwell said the campaign generated “buzz,” adding: “I have people walk up to me and say, ‘I’ve seen you’re flying banner.’ People still feel like they’re seeing it today.”

Advice

“Advertise to your target audience,” Colwell said. “And choose locations where you’ll get the most eyes on your brand.”

Company

Cresco Labs

Business

Medical marijuana cultivator and processor

Headquarters

Chicago

Idea

Contributed a brochure to the swag bag Chicago Marathon runners received last fall. The brochure – entitled “Welcome to a State of Relief” – provided information about the Illinois medical marijuana program. The document had to pass muster with race sponsor Bank of America. “It had to be elevated all the way up to corporate in New York,” said Charles Bachtell, founder and CEO of Cresco Labs.

Goal

“We wanted it to be very visible and in an environment where it might have been unexpected,” Bachtell said. He called the effort – part of a larger multi-tiered push involving billboards, print ads, radio and social media – an “awareness and educational campaign” to normalize MMJ. “It’s normal people using cannabis in normal ways,” he said of the campaign’s message.

Cost

Cresco declined to specify how much it spent. The Chicago Marathon’s website said contributing a “paper insert” to the bag costs $4,700. “It was pretty reasonable,” Bachtell said of the cost. “We definitely felt we got great value for the platform it provided to us.”

Impact

“We definitely saw a bump” in website traffic, Bachtell said, although he couldn’t give an exact figure. He called the marathon a “great platform,” adding that for Cresco: “It made a splash. It got great coverage.”

Advice

“It’s always important to be genuine in the message,” Bachtell said. “This was not an advertising campaign. It was an awareness and education campaign.”

Company

Black Rock Originals

Business

Cannabis accessories company for people “on the go”

Headquarters

Denver

Idea

Sponsor professional skier Tanner Hall, an X Games gold medalist. Together, Hall and the company developed the Tanner Hall Skiboss Collection featuring “everything you need to roll a joint on the go,” including papers, a grinder and a lighter. The accessories can be carried in Black Rock’s flagship “stash box.”

Goal

Black Rock co-founder Tommy Joyce said the company aimed to cast marijuana users in the context of sports and athletics. “It was an opportunity to put cannabis in a different context,” he said. “People think of stoners as lazy.” Referring to skiers, Black Rock’s other co-founder, Nicholas Levich, added: “The goal was to tap into the community we already know is using cannabis.”

Cost

“Are you ready for this? It was free,” Joyce said of the Hall sponsorship. The freeskier, however, does receive a royalty on sales of the Skiboss Collection in the range of 10%-20%.

Impact

“We went from being relatively unknown to people writing about us in The New Yorker,” Joyce said, referring to an article in the magazine about the Black Rock-Hall partnership. Black Rock also got “a lot more” Facebook fans and Instagram followers, Joyce said.

Advice

Pick the right person to represent your product. “Go find the right influencer for your brand,” Levich said. Joyce added: “Understand who your market is and bridge the gap.”