As the legal cannabis industry in the United States buys more advertising, this emerging category is spawning niche ad agencies and new regulations.
Thirty states in the US and the District of Columbia currently have laws broadly legalising marijuana in some form, led by Colorado and Washington State in 2012. The first retail shop in Washington State opened in mid-2014.
Overall spending on legal cannabis in North America is projected to grow from $9.2 billion in 2017 to $47.3 billion a decade later, according to research published by Forbes. The recreational cannabis market will generate two-thirds of the spending; medical marijuana accounts for the remaining 33%.
By 2016, cannabis was the fastest growing category in the Seattle OOH market, which spans Olympia and Bellingham, says Korbe Palmer of Lamar Advertising Company. The cannabis category now generates nearly 8% of Lamar’s sales in that market.
The agency aspect
Branding experts and full-service ad agencies are guiding this start-up industry through complicated, evolving marketing rules.
“Let’s grow together,” beckons the Foot Traffik agency in San Francisco, which calls itself a “ROI focused marijuana dispensary marketing agency.”
In Denver, Cannabrand describes itself as “the world’s first cannabis marketing agency.” Digital 303 wants “to help turn your dreams into stunning visuals.” COHNNABIS is the cannabis-focused creative offshoot of brand agency COHN.
Seattle-based Canna Ventures asks “Are you ready to grow?”
But there are regulations
Advertising rules vary state to state, including for OOH. The ad scheme for cannabis borrows from marketing protocols for other highly regulated products alcohol and tobacco.
The National Association of Cannabis Businesses (NACB) pushes self-regulation. Launched in 2017, NACB is led by president Andrew Kline, who served as an Assistant US Attorney and a senior advisor to vice president and then-senator Joseph Biden (D-DE).
NACB ad standards say: No false claims, don’t encourage underage consumption, don’t show consumption in ads, stay away from transit advertising, and medical marijuana is for patients.
A year ago, Albuquerque rejected a medical marijuana ad on city buses. In November, the San Francisco Municipal Transportation Agency voted to ban recreational pot ads on its buses. Cheryl Brinkman, chair of the local transit board, said San Francisco was aligning with standard advertising practices.
Billboard ads in Washington State, says Palmer at Lamar, typically display cannabis-business names, logos, and directions.
New York State’s regulation of ads for medical marijuana stifles exaggerated claims, unsubstantiated research, and trash talk about competitors’ products.
Others require disclaimers
“Do not operate a vehicle or machinery under the influence of this drug”
“For use only by adults twenty-one years of age and older”
“Keep out of the reach of children”
Colorado’s marijuana regulations ban billboards ads: “…it is unlawful for a retail marijuana establishment to engage in advertising that is visible to members of the public from any street, sidewalk, park or other public place.”
Meanwhile, Colorado’s department of transportation has won national recognition for the creative excellence of its “don’t drive high” billboards and wall signs, designed by the award-winning Denver agency Amélie.
Colorado’s public health agency also tasked Amélie to create multi-media campaigns for responsible use of marijuana.
About half of Colorado’s Adopt-A-Highway signs are sponsored by cannabis enterprises. Olivia Mannix, founder of the Denver-based CannaBrands marketing agency puts it this way: “We can’t really have outdoor billboards, but we can have our names on these Colorado DOT signs. Cannabis marketers have to be extra creative and strategic in all of their marketing efforts” due to restrictions on advertising.
Republished with the permission of the Outdoor Association of America.
Ken Klein leads the Outdoor Association of America’s government affairs team, focusing on the US Congress. Trained as a journalist, Klein worked for a Gannett-owned daily and The Associated Press in Florida. He joined OAAA in 2001 after 25 years in media and government, including key positions with Senator Bob Graham of Florida.