Marketing a Societal Taboo

Cannabis is not yet mainstream When you take a moment to discuss medical cannabis with others, the odds are in your favour that they have tried the product and have an opinion, but by no means is it a typical conversation among strangers. By taking...

Cannabis is not yet mainstream

When you take a moment to discuss medical cannabis with others, the odds are in your favour that they have tried the product and have an opinion, but by no means is it a typical conversation among strangers. By taking a look at numerous products that are also considered taboo, for various reasons, perhaps we can better understand the methodology for creating a brand in an industry surrounded by secret.

Cultural norms are not societal norms

Kentucky Fried Chicken is a prime example of how cultural norms are not the same as societal norms. In a time when it was trendy to act, purchase and appear healthy people continued to purchase buckets of fried chicken. “When asked direct questions about their interests and preferences, people tend to give answers they believe the questioner wants to hear” (Rapaille, 2006). It is our duty as marketers not to tell people what they want to hear but to market to how they live.

The reality is that people smoke cannabis. A successful marketing campaign under this strategy would argue that cannabis use is normal and a relatively popular treatment for a variety of ailments.

Humour can help “break the ice”

It can be difficult to introduce the topic of cannabis without making someone uncomfortable. Humour can help release some of the tension related to conversational insecurities. The campaign for Old Spice broke down the taboo barrier of talking about deodorant by playing off humorous content that would make people talk. In fact, the original advertisement, The Man Your Man Could Smell Like, was so successful it was viewed over 43 million times on YouTube from 2010 to 2012 making it one of the most successful viral campaigns of all time (Academy of Television Arts and Sciences, 2010).

Making it clear not to offend the existing cannabis culture, marketers need to carefully strategize an appropriate branding campaign that uses humour to break the taboo of cannabis without offending others.

Unfortunately the historical perception of cannabis, which is also pushed hard by the media, does not portray the more common medical users. Typically films promote cannabis users as lazy, unsuccessful and criminal. By opposing the traditional view of the ‘stoner’, the stereotype of cannabis users can be changed.

Use Data

Demonstrating that cannabis use for medicinal purposes is not unique will help bring people around and break the taboo of the traditional stereotype. The following data supports the cause that cannabis legalization and use is widespread and users should not feel alone when discussing cannabis for medicinal use.

  • ·       Despite US policy, 51% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana (Saad, 2014).
  • ·       More than two-thirds of Canadians want cannabis laws softened (Kennedy, 2014).
  • ·      According to a 2012 survey by Statistics Canada, 3.43 million or 12.2% of Canadians admitted they use cannabis (Statistics Canada, 2013).
A Mettrum Originals booth at the recent Canadian Health Food Association event in Ontario image from twitter.com/AgriConsult
A Mettrum Originals booth at the recent Canadian Health Food Association event in Ontario image from twitter.com/AgriConsult
Educate

Education is instrumental in moving medical cannabis to the next level.  This begins at the most basic level in informing the public about various types of cannabis, the science behind the medicinal value of the plant, the various intake methods and why they exist, the benefits and drawbacks of cannabis, etc.

Unfortunately the historical perception of cannabis, which is also pushed hard by the media, does not portray the more common medical users. Typically films promote cannabis users as lazy, unsuccessful and criminal; however with the recent rise in popularity and legalization one such film is bucking the trend and promoting cannabis in a more educative fashion. “The Culture High” among other films are introducing cannabis as a product that has valid medicinal value.

One example of education is the reality that there are a wide variety of intake methods for cannabis. Smoking a joint, although it’s the traditional method of consumption, is not necessarily the most beneficial. With the development of vaporizer technology, people can now consume cannabis extracts through discrete, computer-controlled inhalers that release no odour and do not require a flame.

Foster discussion

The cannabis industry is built on testimonials. Due to the lack of scientific research, which is typically funded by the same federal governments who have marked cannabis as a schedule one drug, cannabis treatments are commonly based on shared experiences. For this reason the cannabis community is close-knit when it comes to information and experience collaboration.

As the cannabis industry expands, so will the internal communities. By fostering this discussion brands can promote themselves as community driven experts with a grassroots appearance.

Professionalism

What better way to draw cannabis away from the historical perception of cheap and lazy than to professionally brand the products using top quality packaging and professional service. LELO was able to introduce the sex industry with a wealth of classy, discrete products and the same can be done with cannabis. Although this has already begun in the cannabis industry, where many examples can be found at www.rebrandingcannabis.com, this is something that needs to be brought across all levels of products and customer service.

One way to achieve high standards industry-wide would be the consideration of public policy or member driven associations which require certain standards to be met. The airline industry has the Star Alliance Group which requires all members to adhere to a high level of quality in their products and services. This could serve the cannabis industry as a starting point to develop professionalism across the board.

Peace Naturals booth at the recent Canadian Health Food Association event in Ontario image from twitter.com/AgriConsult
Peace Naturals booth at the recent Canadian Health Food Association event in Ontario image from twitter.com/AgriConsult
Separate the Stereotype

The constant portrayal of cannabis users through the media has not been healthy for the future of the cannabis industry. By opposing the traditional view of the ‘stoner’, the stereotype of cannabis users can be changed. This is very important to connect with modern day cannabis users and help educate them on the benefits that medicinal cannabis can have in their life.

In order to create a brand that will flourish in the Canadian economy, a successful branding campaign would need to break the boundaries of the existing taboo surround cannabis. Although it may be difficult, it is certainly plausible with a willing marketplace. Policy for cannabis is ready for change and because of this, there exists an opportunity today to pursue a fresh market. Opportunities exist in all market forms both horizontal and vertical for engineers, doctors, anthropologists, entrepreneurs, biologists, etc.

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3 comments

  1. Pauline Reply

    Great article! As a medical marijuana consultant who is on the front lines dealing with patient, I can say that these points are all valid. At our clinic, we make it clear that cannabis usage is an informed adult choice. We believe in treating clients in a non judgemental approach. Our educational goal is to empower them to make the right strain choice to alleviate the symptoms of their individual medical condition. We discuss correct dosage, and delivery method. There is still a long way to go for the acceptance of cannabis as medicine. If everyone in this industry takes a team approach in believing we are working for the good of patients, we will succeed in changing attitudes.

  2. Billy Reply

    Not yet 'mainstream' from a dispensary owner? Wha?!

    There are already people with 500k+ subscribers on youtube dedicated as channels for cannabis. Its extremely mainstream. Has been for a long time.

    1. Profile photo of David Brown

      David Brown Reply

      I'm not sure if a popular youtube channel makes something 'mainstream', but you are correct that it is moving in that direction.