The Art Of Marketing Marijuana

How to make pot seem as all-American as an ice-cold beer

In the summer of 2014, The New York Times published its first-ever marijuana ad. The occasion was the enactment of New York’s Compassionate Care Act, which legalized pot for some medical uses. The ad, a congratulatory note from a Seattle start-up, depicted a well-dressed, newspaper-toting man standing on his stoop while a young woman jogged past. Both wore determined expressions; the man, according to the text, consumed marijuana “to relieve his MS symptoms,” and the woman used it “while fighting cancer.” The ad made sense for its time and place. Earlier that year, Colorado and Washington State had begun allowing the sale of recreational pot, and critics were warning that as more states followed suit, profit-motivated corporations could start marketing a lot of pot to a lot of people. Savvy marijuana businesses, worried about confirming this suspicion, stuck to depictions of their most sympathetic users.

Pot’s image problem has since begun to fade, especially in states like Washington and Colorado. Two more states, Oregon and Alaska, have legalized the recreational use of marijuana, and several others may soon have the opportunity to join them. But the people who sell the drug are facing a predicament. In a legal market, cannabis—the plant from which pot is derived—comes to resemble many other farmed products: One grower’s plant looks and tastes a lot like his neighbor’s. (Some pot connoisseurs with sensitive palates can differentiate among strains of cannabis—and even among brands—but they’re as rare as the coffee drinker who can guess his beans’ origins.) John Kagia, the director of industry analytics at New Frontier, which studies the marijuana business, is convinced that pot is becoming commoditized. In Colorado, the supply of marijuana flower is going up, and its cost down, partly because of technological advancements and larger, more efficient operations—just the kind of forces that have turned other products into commodities.

Marijuana Growers Focus On Branding To Fetch Premium Prices For What They Say Is Premium Product

OREGON: Sara Batterby looks forward to the day her marijuana is treated like produce in a Portland grocery store – where cage-free eggs are a dollar more than plain eggs and organic tomatoes from the Willamette Valley are a cut above ones from California.

Batterby is chief executive of Hifi Farms in Portland, which grows pot indoors using organic techniques. But her specialty crop doesn’t fetch a higher price the way organic food would.

“You can have someone growing very average product, covering it with pesticides and chemicals, and their product is valued in the current market the same way my product is valued – which is 100 percent organic, clean, sustainable,” said Batterby, who is also president of the Portland chapter of Women Grow, which promotes what it calls cannabis entrepreneurs.

 

Who Will Become the Starbucks of Pot?

NEW YORK: During a typical Fourth of July weekend, 1500 Esperanza St., a whitewashed deco warehouse in the Boyle Heights district of East Los Angeles, is deserted. But this year, a line snakes down the broken sidewalk out front and wraps around the bend of Union Pacific Avenue, as 4,000 people suffer the searing heat for an event called the California Heritage Market.

While many cities boast farmers markets, this one is unique: It’s the first in California—and likely the entire country—devoted exclusively to pot.

Here, some 50 growers proudly peddle their homegrown weed, not only in the form of dried flowers and buds but also the myriad products that can be concocted from them—from cooking oils, tea and candy to ointments, sunscreen, even soft pretzels.

Cheryl Shuman surveys the crowd with satisfaction. Not only did she help organize the event, but her own brand of weed—Beverly Hills Cannabis Club, a favorite of celebrities with gated mansions up in the Hollywood Hills—is the most recognizable product there. Scratch that. “We were the only branded product there,” she boasts during a phone interview a few days later.

To Keep Business Growing, Vendors Rebrand Pot’s Stoner Image

COLORADO:  From the outside, Jan Cole’s recreational marijuana store in Boulder, Colo., just feels welcoming. Big glass windows let in natural light, and the walls are painted in soothing earth tones. Cole used her background in spa management to build a “warm and inviting” pot shop that puts customers at ease.

In fact, the store’s name, The Farm, is so inconspicuous, “we have a lot of people who come in think that we might be an organic food grocer or something,” she says.

And that’s exactly who Cole is trying to attract: the tote-bag carrying, socially conscious, natural-food crowd. She advertises her cannabis as pesticide-free, organic and, of course, locally grown.

“I don’t think we’ll ever be as big as Whole Foods, but Whole Foods is a good example of the type of clientele that we attract,” she says.

Perils of Pot Press Release: MMJ Doc TV Spot Dropped

NEW JERSEY:  This is a yarn about how a single press release about pot misled dozens of major media outlets.

The press release in question was published Monday on behalf of MarijuanaDoctors.com, a company that says it helps connect patients with doctors who prescribe medical marijuana.

The release stated that MarijuanaDoctors.com was buying television ads through a division of Comcast, marking — its words here — “the first time that any ‘major’ U.S. network has ever allowed the advertising of a medical marijuana service.”

Turns out that was a false claim — the ads never actually aired.