How Aurora Cannabis is marketing itself before its product is legal

How do you market a product that’s not yet legal? You can’t, but you can market your brand — and that’s exactly what an Alberta-based cannabis company is doing.

Aurora's 20 free concerts across Canada raises profile, helps them gather info on potential clientele

Aurora Cannabis is hosting a series of free concerts in Canada this summer. (Shuttershock, CBC)

How do you market a product that's not yet legal? You can't, but you can market your brand — and that's exactly what an Alberta-based cannabis company is doing.

Aurora Cannabis's Illumination Series made its second stop in Edmonton Friday with 80s-era rock band The Cult headlining the show. 

It's one of 20 free concerts hosted across Canada this summer which boasts a star-studded lineup, including artists like Arkells, City and Colour and Post Malone from coast-to-coast-to-coast.
The Aurora Illumination tickets are free — you just have enter your information for a chance to win them. (CBC)

To win tickets, you enter your name, email and phone number into an online form to enter a draw.

It's a unique marketing strategy for a company with a product that's not legal yet, marketing expert Craig Patterson said.

"Coming up with ways to market something when you're not allowed to do it, or you have to skirt around it, it's pretty creative," Patterson, the director of applied research at the University of Alberta, told CBC's Radio Active.

"Their name is going to become synonymous with a lot of music."

The information they're collecting will likely be used to create a list of potential clientele — some of which may have opted in to the newsletter they send out, he said. 

'Uncharted territory' 

Aurora has also backed two art projects by world-renowned street artist Okuda San Miguel — a three-week art exhibit in Toronto and a six-storey mural that will be painted in Edmonton by next week.

Patterson said the strategy behind supporting a mural is less effective because people looking at the mural wouldn't otherwise know it was supported by Aurora. But the company will be able to point to their contributions as proof they care about the communities in which they're operating.

"I think companies do like to get recognized," Patterson said. "It shows that they're supporting community, one way or another."

Patterson compared the marketing strategy to other regulated businesses which attach their names to events — whether that's Molson sponsoring races or Benson and Hedges sponsoring fireworks shows.

But this time around, it's a bit different: Aurora is marketing itself in place of its currently illegal product. "I don't want to say it's uncharted territory, but it might be," he said.

Craig Patterson is the director of applied research at the University of Alberta. (University of Alberta)

Patterson expects Aurora has a post-legalization marketing strategy in place. Though they have to find more creative ways to advertise right now, he said the current sponsorships will pay dividends as the company looks to corner a section of the market.

"There's a lot of competition right now — we're seeing a lot of companies come on board trying to be the cannabis company," he said.  "For these companies looking to dominate the market … they're going to have to be creative."