It was either a slow news day or the fact the campaign in question featured the buzzworthy hot topic of pot, but MarijuanaDoctors.com pulled a fast one over many media outlets, as initially reported by CNNMoney's Brian Stelter.
The trouble started when MarijuanaDoctors.com issued a press release on Friday, March 7 announcing it would start to air commercials for medical marijuana use — a first for mass-market TV. Indeed, the controversy surrounding marijuana has made it difficult for big name broadcasters to even consider ads.
However, the release apparently jumped the gun by claiming these ads would, in fact, air on major networks, such as Fox, CNN and ESPN. Instead, an ad was uploaded to YouTube.com and the group ordered ad time via Comcast Spotlight for local spots in New Jersey, which has a medical marijuana program on the major networks cited. Yet Comcast Spotlight (as do all sellers of TV ads) retains final approval rights before a spot airs, and ultimately rejected the ad.
Hence, numerous news media outlets reported something was going to happen that ultimately failed to take place, while providing MarijuanaDoctors.com with free, national coverage.
Now, the question remains, can pot ads ever air nationally? Or is the only way for medical marijuana to receive national coverage is to engage in this type of trickery?
For now, medical marijuana remains not ready for prime time. The subject remains objectionable to national networks and unless there is political, legal and lobbying pressure on the networks, it will remain off-limits.
That said, there are other channels that can reach these viewers. MarijuanaDoctors.com could turn to smaller local cable channels to design a patch
work to reach national viewers, says branding expect Eric Schiffer, CEO, DigitalMarketing.com.
"The political tides are swinging heavily in favor of medical marijuana on a national level, and if companies like MarijuanaDoctors.com can get their name in people’s minds early and often, they can gain demand attention and be brand first on the forefront of a massively profitable movement," says Schiffer.
Or medical marijuana advocates could concentrate on the Internet. Email marketing, search engine optimization and display advertising with retargeting can reach a large spectrum of the population that demographically mirrors national TV viewers, he says.
Medical marijuana supporters may benefit from lessons learned by an earlier advertising trailblazer, GoDaddy.com. Although the GoDaddy.com platform was never illegal, its path to national recognition was also atypical and controversial.
"They were risqué, somewhat crude and even confusing at times, to the point where they were often overtly unrelated to their brand equity," says Schiffer. "They received immense national criticism — but this essentially made them the first name that people thought of when building their own personal Web site, at a time when personal site building was a relatively new industry. People didn’t know where to go, so the fact that the commercials were silly only served to make them memorable."
Still, PR stunts —like the recent one by MarijuanaDoctors.com — may ultimately serve as the most effective advertising tactic, particularly because they reach those in states that both allow and don't allow medical marijuana usage, and come with the efficient price tag of nothing.