Supplying marijuana for medicinal use is already a well-established industry in Canada. Now, as recreational use of marijuana becomes legal in more U.S. jurisdictions, major money and marketers are getting behind some of the emerging marijuana brands.
The first thing you need to know when marketing marijuana to mainstream consumers is not to call it marijuana. Corporate brand managers prefer the term cannabis, which sounds more scientific and doesn't carry as much hippie-counterculture baggage. Even worse, of course, are terms like weed and pot.
Apparently Willie Nelson didn't get that memo. He released this new single on April 20 — the counterculture cannabis holiday — to coincide with the announcement of plans to launch Willie's Reserve. The new brand of cannabis will be developed by Nelson in conjunction with "master growers."
Willie's Reserve is only the most recent cannabis brand with major marketing behind it. The current market heavyweight is Privateer Holdings, which received financing from a Silicon Valley investment fund in January.
Privateer owns Nanaimo-based medical marijuana producer Tilray, and marijuana information service Leafly. As well as running slick-but-friendly educational videos that aim to reduce fear and confusion around cannabis, Leafly also ran a full-page ad in the New York Times last summer. It pointed out which cannabis strains might be best for relieving multiple sclerosis symptoms or fighting cancer.
Privateer Holdings also worked with the family of a deceased music superstar to create Marley Natural, which it bills as the world's first global cannabis brand.
Nowadays, even mainstream packaged goods brands don't seem to be shying away from associating themselves with cannabis culture.
In 2011, Fiber One promoted it's new high-fiber brownies in a fake movie trailer starring Cheech and Chong.
While cannabis marketers spend millions promoting all of the physical and emotional benefits of marijuana, government marketers spend millions more warning of its physical and emotional harm, in ads like this.
As money continues to pour into cannabis from all directions, it may not be actual users who derive the most benefit — but instead cannabis producers, marketers and tax collectors.
Bruce Chambers is a syndicated advertising columnist for CBC Radio.