Reaching New Heights: An Analysis of Cannabis Marketing
October 4, 2022
By: Annette Yang
The cannabis industry is a rapidly growing market expected to hit 100 billion USD in sales within the next decade (Forbes). Cannabis is a federally regulated, psychoactive drug that became largely unrestricted for recreational use in most US states following the 2021 reformed legislature. Since then, the industry has grown rapidly to become much more mainstream and people are jumping to capitalize on this lucrative market. Needless to say, it's worth keeping an eye out to see how this once-taboo industry shows up in the world of branding and marketing.
Battle of the Cannabinoids
The cannabis market is quite extensive, to say the least. CBD gummies, CBD massage oils, THC-infused lemonade, and THC-infused mints are just a few products that live on the market. Chances are, you’ve probably heard or encountered some kind of cannabis-related product marketed on social media or on the counters of stores like Target and Walgreens. But what even are CBD and THC and since when did they become so trendy?
Courtesy of Teen Vogue
CBD and THC stand for cannabidiol and tetrahydrocannabinol, respectively, and are the two most common cannabinoids found in cannabis. In layman's terms, they are acronyms for chemical properties that have different effects on your body. While it may depend on the person, CBD has been studied to result in benefits including reduced chronic pain, increased relaxation, and reduced anxiety. CBD can be derived from both marijuana and hemp, a similar plant with fewer THC levels. As of 2018, hemp is legal across the country, thus, hemp-derived CBD has the all-clear. On the other hand, CBD based on marijuana is ruled illegal in some states.
With the extensive list of potential benefits of CBD, big names like Sephora have jumped on the bandwagon of selling products like “Marvelous CBD Extra Rich Body Lotion” and “750mg CBD Recovery Rub for Soothing Comfort”. There have also been a number of new companies entering the market that specialize in CBD-infused beauty products that claim to combat wrinkles, acne, and other skin troubles. Apart from the skincare/self-care industry, there has been a multitude of new innovations including THC tropical fruit drinks, CBD honey, and an uncountable variety of gummies. With the rapid expansion of this market, there has been a parallel increase of concerns regarding the trustworthiness of these so-called “CBD benefits”, how they could potentially harm health, and, of course, legalities.
Society, as well as the FDA ( Federal Food and Drug Administration), are still trying to catch up to the CBD craze. Currently, the sale of CBD products is not necessarily regulated by the FDA as the products are categorized as supplements. However, it is illegal for companies to claim the fact that CBD products will have some kind of therapeutic or health benefit. There is not enough scientific evidence as of yet to determine the overall safety of cannabis products, and there is still a posed risk in relation to the improper use or underage use of these products. The looming concern is that many cannabis companies are actually targetting the younger, more vulnerable target market: teenagers. Many advertisements for cannabis companies use bold graphics, bright colors, and sweet flavors that undoubtedly appeal to a younger audience. This topic is reminding of the controversy surrounding Juul for positioning its products to appeal to the younger eye with the popping colors, young models, and infamous fruity flavors.
Courtesy of Weedmaps
Cannabis Marketing Strategy
With all the involved complexities regarding cannabis products, companies have a lot to think about when strategizing their marketing. They need to think about branding, federal law, public health, and also restrictions in terms of where they can even advertise, to name a few. The largest advertising companies like Google and Meta both have heavy restrictions on cannabis marketing on their platforms. The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) also bans cannabis marketing on TV. Additionally, there are different laws regarding cannabis across states. Considering this, cannabis companies have relied heavily on local or state-bounded marketing in order to put out marketing campaigns while knowing for sure that what they’re doing is legal. Companies also put out advertisements on YouTube and Vimeo to attract consumers. Serving educational resources and content is another marketing strategy that cannabis companies have relied on to communicate advisories while building brand trust.
Overall, marketing is something that is quite difficult for cannabis brands. Many companies have branched out to successfully sell CBD products or even just the idea of cannabis use. Even so, the industry’s future is still very unclear and fairly new in terms of digital marketing. That being said, companies have almost a blank slate to explore creative, different methods of marketing despite the posed challenges. As long as it stays within the lines of legality, the cannabis industry has a lot of growth potential and poses an interesting type of marketing in the 21st century.
Annette Yang is the Fall 2022-Spring 2023 Content Director. She is a Junior at NYU Steinhardt majoring in Media, Culture, and Communication and minoring in Business and Data Science. Stay tuned for more content from Annette!