Writing The Marijuana Creative Brief

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.

The Market

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 and


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.

4 comments about "Writing The Marijuana Creative Brief".
Check to receive email when comments are posted.
  1. Steve Plunkett from Cool Websites Organization, January 16, 2014 at 12:31 p.m.

    Until it's not a crime federally.. SHOULD agencies even participate? #ethics

  2. Ken Kurtz from creative license, January 16, 2014 at 12:56 p.m.

    Of course agencies should participate. We're talking about a recreational drug that has never killed a single American (despite widespread usage for decades), and is FAR LESS debilitating, and dangerous than alcohol. The valid question might be should agencies participate in the marketing of alcoholic beverages (which kill 100,000 Americans annually), and tobacco products (which kill 500,000 Americans annually).

    That, of course, has already been asked of, and answered by our industry. Over the past four decades alone, alcohol has snuffed out 4 million American lives, and tobacco has snuffed out 20 million American lives. And we should consider the ethics of marketing another popular, and widely used recreational drug that has snuffed out ZERO American lives?


  3. Ken Kurtz from creative license, January 16, 2014 at 1:03 p.m.

    By the way, I would focus the marketing of MJ to its relative safety alone. And I would juxtapose images of assaults, rapes, drunk driving accidents, and murders (the vast majority of which take place when alcohol is in the picture) with the relatively relaxed nature of intoxication via MJ.

    Go ahead. Research it. All sorts of aggravated assaults, rapes, and murders occur in direct concordance with the ingestion of alcohol. If every user of alcohol in America switched to weed, the only thing getting beat up, raped, assaulted, and murdered would be bags and boxes of snack food, and couch cushions.

  4. Bill Hewson from Hewson Group, January 16, 2014 at 3:39 p.m.

    I think it's interesting that you've focused on the demand generation objectives of the marijuana economy. I agree that national or regional brands will develop beyond the 500+ various strain names already in existence at dispensaries (Blue Hawaiian, Girl Scout Cookies, AK-47, and other crazy names). See Jamen Shively and his Diego Pellicier brand play in action.

    But it seems to me the the more immediate marketing opportunity exists with the dispensaries themselves. And for that, two things will be needed; one is a good marketplace segmentation (young dudes are not the only market). Stoners, Curious Newbies, Medical Patients, Jaded Hippies, Moms for Marijuana, the list goes on. The other need is, like any retail business, shopper data. Given that most weed, even the currently quasi-legal type, is bought with cash, retailers don't have a good view into who's buying what, the mother's milk of good marketing. While some MJ specific POS systems track customers individually, most dispensaries don't have this capability and so can't define their most valuable customers very easily at scale.

    How soon until someone like Dunhumby or Epsilon is capturing frequent weed shopper data and building a warehouse of weed smoker data to sell to retargeting platforms? Then the marketing will really begin! And the privacy wars heat up all over again as well.

Next story loading loading..