New Brunswick

A new image of pot: Cannabis marketers share their strategies

Before New Brunswick's cannabis stores open to the public, marketers are grappling with the challenge of how to tell customers about their brand without breaking the law.

Saint John conference hears how companies grapple with raising brand awareness — without breaking the law

Ray Gracewood, chief commercial officer for New Brunswick-based Organigram, spoke in Saint John about the challenges of marketing to consumers under strict rules. (Brian Chisholm/CBC )

Before New Brunswick's cannabis stores open to the public, marketers are grappling with the challenge of how to tell customers about their brand without breaking the law. 

"We've been given very clear direction," Ray Gracewood, chief commercial officer for New Brunswick-based Organigram, said Tuesday at the World Cannabis Congress in Saint John.

"[For example,] the fact that we are only allowed one colour on the packaging."

Earlier this year, Health Canada introduced strict guidelines around labelling.

Containers must display health warnings, similar to tobacco products, and company logos and lettering have to stay small.

Bill C-45, the legislation to decriminalize marijuana, would also prohibit any promotion that could appeal to youth or encourage consumption.

Furthermore, smoking pot cannot be endorsed by celebrities or be portrayed as glamorous, exciting, risky or daring.

The World Cannabis Congress in Saint John was a three-day event for stakeholders in the cannabis industry. (Brian Chisholm/CBC )

Organigam, a licensed supplier, has already taken steps to differentiate its medicinal marijuana from recreational products.

Last month, it introduced three new labels, including the Edison Cannabis Company, Ankr Organics and Trailer Park Buds.

The latter is a partnership with the Nova Scotia-based Trailer Park Boys Productions, which produces a comedy series available on Netflix.

The deal includes "product placement opportunities."

Gracewood said the next phase of marketing will focus on non-combustible products.

He expects the Canadian market will open up to edibles, concentrates and extracts within the first year of legalization, creating a big opportunity to reach a wider audience.

"That's what really de-stigmatizes the industry, when you get away from dried flower combustion and into more discreet and palatable forms, that's what really opens people's eyes to the possibility of cannabis."

"That's when selection is really going to take flight for consumers."

Women and cannabis 

Another approach discussed in Saint John was how to target women.

That's the route April Pride chose to pursue when she founded her company, Van der Pop.

She calls it a women-centric cannabis lifestyle brand that started in Seattle and is now based in Toronto.

"As a 40-plus-year-old woman, I felt like the idea of what cannabis looks like for most people didn't add up to what it looked like in my life," said Pride.

"I knew I needed a lot of discretion around my cannabis consumption."

Pride created what she calls a stash bag, that looks like a leather purse but also has a combination lock on the zipper.

She said it could appeal to women who want to store their cannabis securely, including mothers who want to keep their marijuana away from children.

Pride said she relied almost exclusively on Instagram to create brand recognition and an audience. The account now has 32,000 followers, she said.

About the Author

Rachel Cave is a CBC reporter based in Saint John, New Brunswick.