When it comes to celebrity-aligned brands, they don’t get any wilder than Tyson 2.0. The former heavyweight boxing champ likes his weed, and he has formed a company and brand around that passion. Tyson 2.0 produces a full range of flowers, pre-rolls, edibles, and vapes that are distributed at dispensaries nationwide. And they don’t mind having fun with it. Tyson himself likes lighting up for video shoots. And the Mike’s Bites line of edibles comes in the shape of a bitten ear, a direct reference to Tyson’s infamous “Bite Fight” bout with Evander Holyfield in 1997, when Mike literally took a bite out of his opponent. Ironically, this is all part of the overall wellness message of Tyson 2.0, how cannabis products helped change the notoriously aggressive champ. The brand also wants to take some cues, not to mention personnel, from the traditional CPG industry. CMO Jackie Guarini spent several years as head of commerce at Anheuser-Busch, where she led commerce, shopper marketing, D2C and programmatic, social media, and media buying for portfolio brands. Brand Insider spoke with Jackie about the challenges of bringing a CPG playbook to Wacky-Weed.
MediaPost: What does the retail footprint look like for Tyson 2.0 as a national and now international cannabis brand?
Jackie Guarini: Tyson 2.0 is the fastest-growing cannabis brand there is right now in the industry. We're active in fifteen states in less than a year. We are going to be at 21 by the end of the year and also in Canada. We're also making plans to go global. For us it's all about expansion and getting many SKUs to market, and as many states as possible making sure that we're making products that address all consumer needs, consumer trends. We have some fantastic, multi-state and single-state operators. With these partners, we were just able to really dominate the market, get into brick-and-mortar stores.
MP: Tell us about how you've built the brand and the sorts of media channels that you've been using,
JG: Unlike CPG, in many ways, where you can kind of throw money at a problem to create brand awareness or brand equity, we really have relied heavily on organic social, and just word of mouth. The cannabis community is one that's extremely engaged, and it really loves the product. We have people that are like Mike, for example, who absolutely loves cannabis, and it shows, and he’s very closely tied to the cannabis community. In terms of media channels in and of itself, we've grown since I've been at Tyson 2.0, even in the last month probably around 40K followers just on Instagram alone. We grew [the] Ric Flair Drip account over 450% in a month since launching. Those are numbers that are staggeringly high for anybody that works in organic brand building, and we're really proud of that. I think it really is a culmination of the cannabis community also tying it to a brand that people love. It's nostalgic, joyful, and comforting. The results kind of speak for themselves.
Also, I think having a celebrity brand, of course, helps, and I think, at the same time, the quality of the flower and the products speak for themselves too. [We are] engaging people on Reddit channels. We're always constantly looking for feedback there. I would also say from a product innovation standpoint, the virality of our products too, which is with Mike Bites. Mike Bites is an edible product. Every cannabis brand should have an edible [product] in their line. It's a huge growth driver for any business in that category. We decided to do Mike Bites. Kiki Tyson, who is Mike's wife, came up with the idea. It's from the infamous fight back from 1997.
Our whole brand is at the intersection of culture, sports, cannabis, and also psychedelics. With Mike Bites we're happy to say that we've generated over one billion organic placements. And that's something. I always say, a CPG CMO can only dream of once in a lifetime to have such a viral hit. We had that in about six or seven months after the conception.
MP: Do you do any paid media? Do you do anything to promote the virality from a paid perspective?
JG: Yes. So being a cannabis brand, we're actually prohibited from boosting posts on Meta specifically. That's something that's just a limitation of the industry at large. There’s just concerns for consumer safety, so we're not able to do that. However, on the programmatic side, there are different regulations, and because it's not a finite universe, like a social network would be, they’re a little bit less prohibited, and we're able to market across all omni channels. So it could be CTV, audio, display, pre-roll, native, for example. We've done a few small campaigns with our partner Fyllo, and they kind of act as our managed service agency. It's all top to bottom for programmatic, and they have an expansive data marketplace as well, which obviously is great for me because I want to tap into consumers and prospects.
MP: So what is the strategy for using celebrity? I mean in this case the celebrity is the brand itself. There are not many products that are truly named after the celebrity. I’m really curious about if there's a strategy around where you use Mike, where you don't use Mike, what types of formats you're focused on, how you make sure that you're not just having the focus on the celebrity, but that you're saying something about the product.
JG: Absolutely. It boils down to his commitment to the brand. Think of Mike as kind of like a boss. He is the boss of this company, he's the
chief brand officer and he wants to make sure that we're doing right by him and brand. I think he's so involved and that's a huge difference with any other business. I think really what it takes to
build a successful celebrity brand is the connection to it, the engagement with it, making sure that you're closely aligned to it, doing in-market visits, caring about the longevity play, what’s
important is the quality of the flower itself and also of your product line. It's always been, since day one, that whatever we're putting into a jar, whatever we're putting into a bag, that we are
proud of that, and it's high-end premium flower. We want to make sure that we're standing behind that, so we can be evangelists for the brand and really believe in it. That this is why we come to work
every day. I'm a huge advocate, obviously, of plant medicine, and I would [have] wanted to make sure that wherever I did go into the cannabis space that I was going after a brand that actually did
care about the product whether it's CPG or cannabis. You're only as good as what your product says, and if your consumers aren't happy with your product, that's a problem.
MP: Let me ask for an example of brand differentiation. Tease out one of the product lines and tell me how you actually go about differentiating it in a market where I think the majority of your consumers are probably cannabis curious more than devoted fans.
JG: Our Champion and our Disruptive line, one of my biggest things is obviously functional benefits but also the emotional ones. I talk about this all the time with my team. So with Mike, potency, greater wellness, purity, premium, those are all things that, whether you're a heavy cannabis consumer or you're just kind of curious, were all seeking some form of a relief, whether it's from stress or maybe you need to eat more, or you have pain. That greater wellness factor is such an important thing in identifying why [consumers] want to pick this plant. When you go to a dispenser you come with an issue. For example, I have issues with sleeping, insomnia, and anxiety. I really look for hybrids that are indica dominant. We like to be able to give a broad range of different types of strains and products to consumers that can address each one of those needs [and] what the functional benefits that match them are. The emotional benefits for our brand are all based on what we're trying to do and accomplish is create something that brings joy, comfort, connection, and nostalgia to consumers. A big part of what I believe in are the emotional benefits of products, in particular, right after Covid, we've all collectively had this crazy experience, and we're all looking for a reprieve.
MP: What are some of the most important learnings from Anheuser-Bush and the traditional CPG world that you think are most applicable to this world?
JG: I've said this many times, how do you get a very highly regulated industry like cannabis, coming from alcohol, which is also highly regulated. There is still that consistent strategy that you can have. If you make a beer in California, you package it up, you could ship it to New York or to Texas, and it all can look the same, and there's no compliance issues per state necessarily. So, with cannabis, it's very difficult to have that consistent vision because it's not federally legal. Every single state has their own compliance regulations. For example, you can't have cartoons, you can't have faces, you can't have body parts, which, of course, for Mike Bites is a little bit difficult, and you have to kind of craft around that. So that kind of diminishes your ability to have a consistent brand. However, I do think [it’s] the mindset that I had with CPG, which is how you build brand equity, how do you build brand awareness, so that when somebody walks into a dispensary, or if they're looking online, they can have that brand recall. [They can say] that's a Tyson 2.0 product, I really like it, and they'll want to scoop it up.
But some states are more difficult than others. For example, Ric Flair packaging is really brightly colored with really crazy fonts. You have Ric on the packaging as a human figure. But for some states, you can't use certain fonts, and it has to be black and white. So, it really strips all of my ability to make that consistent brand possible. But that's where you lean more heavily into the organic side as much as you can. I do think that there's a consumer awareness that cannabis is where it is right now. Whereas alcohol was one hundred years ago, things looked a little bit different. I think, as time goes [on], consumers will be like, that's cool packaging, but I know I might get something else in store. For now, it's a little bit more pharmacist in certain states when you're getting a package, it's very bland. But we will move to a space in the next probably five years across the US and also globally to a point where we can have consistent branding and packaging across state lines. That compliance will be a little bit more universal and will give us more creative liberties with packaging.
MP: What do you think cannabis marketing looks like five years out?
JG: First, I think with big tentpole moments like a Super Bowl, for example. You're going to come to see smaller players that have somewhat of deep pockets, or want to be making a splash coming to the mainstream in terms of linear TV or big tentpole moments. You're going to see more openness to sponsorships, and whether it's CBD or actual cannabis brands, that's going to be something I definitely foresee happening. These are real businesses, this is a real brand, we have real numbers on the board, [and] with that marketing budgets grow. Social platforms, for example, like a Meta or TikTok, they're going to have to transform or they're going to lose their place. They're going to have to find ways to make their platforms safe. Otherwise, they're missing a huge revenue stream. I definitely can foresee that as well that not only social media platforms will probably change over time. It'll be slow, probably helping with CBD first, and [then] going into cannabis. But as the state laws and advertising laws open up, they're going to need to adapt and pivot their strategies. Otherwise, they're going to get left in the dust.