Buddy the spokesbud a lesson in cannabis messaging, say retail expert and designer

Retail expert and a designer say the removal of Buddy the cannabis character highlights the issue around cannabis messaging and imagery.

Public feedback highlights an issue that may lead to cannabis retailers chilling on advertising

A image shared on the City of Leduc's website and social media accounts shows Buddy, the city's spokesbud. (City of Leduc)

The City of Leduc's decision to remove a cannabis "spokesbud" from its website highlights potential problems with messaging and advertising when pot becomes legal next month, experts say.

The city removed Buddy, an illustrated character, from their cannabis bylaw webpage on Monday, just five days after it debuted.

The character attracted plenty of attention and feedback, but in the end public concerns that the character might make cannabis seem enticing for children led to the decision to remove the image.

For John Pracejus, director of the University of Alberta's School of Retailing, the reversal wasn't surprising.

"I think on the webpage of the city was probably not a good place to put Buddy," said Pracejus.

The character might have worked, he said, if the city could have guaranteed that only people over the age of 18 would see it.

"It was attention getting and it might get more people to read the bylaws, which are going to be different than in Edmonton," he said.

Robin Stewart, a partner and graphic designer at Cut and Paste Design Inc., considered the use of Buddy a success, but said the topic of cannabis can be a complex issue for messaging once it is legalized on Oct. 17.

"This is a lesson for everyone on maybe slowing down and thinking about what we really do want to say on this issue," Stewart said on CBC's Edmonton AM on Wednesday morning.

Strict rules for marketing of cannabis

Under the federal government's Cannabis Act, cannabis advertisements will be banned in places where minors are allowed. Depictions of people, characters or animals, and information promoting the health benefits of cannabis, will also be prohibited.

A full list of the advertising policies for cannabis retailers can be found here.

I think at the beginning everyone will tread extremely lightly- John Pracejus

Pracejus said he expects that retailers and other groups will be very cautious when promoting anything related to legal cannabis.

"I think at the beginning, everyone will tread extremely lightly, because while the rules are in place the sort of norms or interpretation of the rules is going to evolve over time," he said.

"We're going to be in a period for the next six months to a year where there's going to be some unusual things happening, because people are testing the waters and trying to figure out where the boundaries lie."

Travis.mcewan@cbc.ca

@Travismcewancbc