As lines snaked outside marijuana dispensaries in Colorado on day one of legal weed, the themes of the day were obvious and cliche'd: stoners, bongs, the munchies.
Yet, if legal weed is now a real product, like beer or cigarettes or Sudafed, shouldn’t we be thinking about how to market it? And, if so, what’s the creative brief going to look like for a pot brand?
Let’s take a quick hit.
By most accounts, the potential size of the legal marijuana market warrants our attention. Estimates vary widely, but according to Arcview Market Research, the 2014 marijuana market (which includes Colorado and Washington, plus the 20 states and Washington, D.C., that allow medical marijuana), is projected to be $1.4 billion. In five years, it’s estimated to be at $10.2 billion. Some optimistic (read: sky high) researchers estimate the 2020 marijuana market to approach $100 billion in sales – the same size as the beer market.
Competitively, the category is currently pretty much limited to Mom & Pop dispensaries that are legally obligated in most states to grow most of what they sell. So, regional or national brands are a work-in-progress. However, laws are set to change toward the end of this year, allowing non-dispensaries to grow and market the stuff. And it doesn’t take much extrapolation to anticipate who might get in the game: Big Tobacco. After all, tobacco companies already have the land and the infrastructure to harvest, roll, and distribute their products. In fact, Philip Morris’ parent company, Altria, recently secured the domain names AltriaCannabis.com and AltraMarijuana.com.
It’s hard to imagine the sweet spot for advertising marijuana to be anything but young men. According to Gallup, men are about twice as likely to smoke pot than women. Seventy-three percent of California medical marijuana cards are issued to men (Journal of Drug Policy Analysis). And while National Geographic and the New Republic pegged the age of the average marijuana to be in their early 40s, anecdotal evidence says it skews younger. Those lines in Denver – mostly young dudes.
So, right now, it looks like Marijuana Man shares a lot of similarities with Beer Dude.
Here’s where the brief gets fun. Marketing will have the opportunity to shape the popular culture that marijuana lives in. Is it a Cheech and Chong world (the Old Spice guy) or possibly something slightly more refined (Stella Artois)? The various milieus of tobacco advertising have placed the user in multiple worlds through the years – from doctor-recommended, to cowboy loner, to anti-establishment rebel. What is weed’s archetype to be?
If beer ads tend to gravitate toward large social settings, what’s the best setting for marijuana ads? Is it a bar? A dinner party? Outside the office with colleagues after a long day at work? A romantic walk down the beach? Or alone in a single apartment with a six-foot water bong?
And who’s doing the soundtrack to the TV spot? There’s the obvious choice: Bob Marley, Dr. Dre, Snoop Dogg, Willie Nelson, the Grateful Dead. What if we disrupt those conventions and go with Lee Greenwood (“I’m proud to be an American … where at least I know I’m free”) or Rick James. And can business affairs look into Nancy Reagan’s availability? The sky’s the limit on tone here.
Kidding aside, current sentiment shows that Americans aren’t really ready to see pot advertised widely. A recent poll conducted by the Partnership for a Drugfree America found that while a majority of people approved of legalized marijuana, over 80% weren’t ready to see it advertised.
And while consumer attitudes are always a moving target, I’d be hard-pressed to find anyone who wouldn’t want to work on the first marijuana Super Bowl spot.