Businesses should hop on the pot bandwagon

The marijuana industry is opening many doors for brands.

Ben & Jerry's released an ad promoting its new ice cream burrito, just in time for 4/20.
Ben & Jerry's released an ad promoting its new ice cream burrito, just in time for 4/20.

On Monday – aka 4/20, the unofficial holiday for weed smokers everywhere – many brands referenced marijuana in fun ways on social media, but there’s so much more they could do beyond retweets and likes.

More states are moving legislations toward legalizing recreational marijuana use and, by 2018, the Marijuana Business Factbook estimates US recreational retail sales of legal marijuana to reach between $3.8 billion and $4.2 billion.

The once-taboo plant is becoming decriminalized and accepted among the general public, opening up a plethora of opportunities for companies and agencies to get involved in the industry. For example, Olivia Mannix and Jennifer DeFalco, cofounders of strategic marketing firm MARCA Strategic, launched cannabis marketing agency Cannabrand last January in Denver.

While it is a little scary for brands to link themselves to a substance that is still largely illegal in the US, the benefits outweigh the risks if done right.

First off, it has to make sense for your company to play in the marijuana space, so food and snack brands, go for it – as long as the communications isn’t targeting children. Ben & Jerry’s, Pepsi, and Arby’s are among the companies who got in on the 4/20 revelry this week.

With marijuana’s medicinal elements, health and wellness brands can also get involved in the sector. Since marijuana is often prescribed to glaucoma patients to relieve eye pressure – including actress Roseanne Barr who openly talked about her medical weed-smoking earlier this week - it makes sense for an eye-drop brand to partner with a vaporizer company.

It doesn’t make sense for all businesses to hop on the pot bandwagon. Hardware brands, toy companies, and automakers should steer clear. The one car company where it made sense was Uber, which provided free rides to weed smokers on 4/20 to promote safe consumption habits.

Brands also have the chance to sponsor or partner with the growing number of marijuana rallies and festivals, such as Seattle’s annual HempFest, which touts the mission on its website "to educate the public on the myriad applications of the cannabis plant, the laws about its use, efforts for reform, and conducting business in the new legal environment."

Two years ago at HempFest, the Seattle Police Department handed out bags of Doritos as part of its cheeky Operation Orange Fingers effort aimed at raising awareness of Washington State’s rules around recreational marijuana use. Each bag of Doritos donned a sticker with the SPD’s #Marijwhatnow information.

While reports at the time stated the Seattle initiative was in partnership with PepsiCo, Doritos’ parent company, the food and beverage giant didn’t do much to promote it. Perhaps that’s because marijuana use was under more scrutiny in 2013 than it is today.

As long as brands make a relevant association to the marijuana industry – whether to edibles, medicinal products, vaporizers, oils, or events – and promote safe consumption habits, now is the time to step out of the comfort zone.

Once one major company makes the leap into this booming market, more will surely follow.

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