Two years ago, FOUR20 was one of two cannabis retailers open on day one of cannabis legalization in Canada. Now, they have 14 different locations with 130+ employees. Amber Craig—their Chief Merchandising Officer—joined them full-time once cannabis was fully legalized.
But everyone’s wondering: What does marketing for cannabis look like? What are the hard and fast rules about advertising? How is it regulated? We have a fascinating discussion about the dos and don’ts of marketing cannabis in this episode of Content Callout. Don’t miss it!
Outline of This Episode
- [1:09] All about FOUR20 and the cannabis industry
- [2:10] The stigma of cannabis use
- [4:48] Marketing regulations around cannabis
- [10:08] The fight for legitimacy
- [12:56] What makes the industry exciting?
- [14:56] The educational phase of cannabis
- [17:47] The challenges that cannabis stores face
- [22:06] Handling cannabis supply and demand
- [24:45] Getting into the cannabis industry
- [26:55] About the Breaking Free Foundation
- [35:22] The stigma of giving donations
- [36:20] Cannabis = an ever-changing landscape
- [39:43] How to get more information
Fighting the stigma of cannabis use
When Amber first started doing cannabis marketing for her client, many of her other clients were afraid to be associated with her. The stigma of cannabis use was still so strong. She notes that fighting the stigma is still a battle, but every day becomes easier. She now has no shame about talking it up.
The regulations around cannabis advertising are constantly changing. In general, Health Canada sets the guidelines for advertising, but every province has its own governing bodies that regulate how to market. It’s hard to keep up, but it makes you resilient and creative as a marketer.
Marketing regulations around cannabis
The biggest concern of governing agencies is that cannabis doesn’t get in the hands of kids. So you have to ensure you do things that are properly age-gated (what that means depends on each regulatory agency in each province). For some, it means requiring website visitors to enter their date of birth to visit a site. Others require something more strenuous.
The bottom line is that you can’t run ads where someone under the age of 18 can hear or see them. You also can’t use advertising where you show people using cannabis. You can’t “glamorize” the use of cannabis. What does that mean? You have to sell something without making it look good. You can’t attach it to lifestyle, fitness, or health.
What makes it even more complicated is that social media companies like Facebook and Instagram are headquartered in the U.S., where cannabis isn’t yet federally legal. So even though something is compliant in Canada, you can’t market it on those channels because of their policies.
Cannabis marketing gives you space for creativity
It complicates things because there are medical products that they’re allowed to sell—but they can’t tell people it has medical use. There is no recreational reason to use CBD cream. It’s completely medical—but they can’t say that. Because of this, you have to get really creative. When you rely on organic growth because you can’t pay for PPC, it’s risky. They’ve played it safe trying to follow regulations.
Anything that’s sold in recreational marketing (THC, CBD, etc.) is completely vague. So how do you get around it? Talk about the scientific properties. You can’t say that the CBD cream will help plump your skin—but you can say that it’s an antioxidant. At this point, the cannabis industry has to rely on an educated consumer base, which is unrealistic.
What makes the industry exciting? How is the world changing as people are educating themselves about cannabis use? Keep listening to learn more!
The challenges cannabis stores face
Cannabis packaging usually contains warnings about THC use and the health risks associated. There is little to no brand awareness at all. You have to rely on great partnerships with retailers or their marketing strengths to get someone to recognize the brand because it all looks the same. It’s tough on the production side. FOUR20 asks for beauty packaging to use on their shelves to help get around the regulatory packaging.
How do they compete in the space when brand awareness can be so difficult? Amber notes that the consumer needs to know what makes your business better. Their education and customer service are what they get five-star reviews for. They built their own training program for their staff that was above and beyond any government training out there. Their staff can’t give medical advice—but they could. They know everything there is to know.
They also benefited from the hoopla around legalization in Canada. Their storefront was global news for months. They had a line outside their first store for two weeks. In that first year, they had 181 media interviews. You can’t buy that type of publicity. It was a historical moment. And they’ve since built a good relationship with the media and government officials.
Cannabis is an ever-changing landscape
Amber notes that they do everything they can—within regulations—to appease customers who can’t spend time in stores. They launched QR stickers so you can order and leave. They don’t even have the luxury of eCommerce yet, but they’re trying to adapt to the needs of what people want.
Amber believes that things will change and change quickly. Her marketing team has two meetings a week to talk about what is changing in that week because things change every single day. It’s a lot to navigate, but it keeps you on your toes. When regulations change, you have to adapt and change your gameplan.