Traditional marketing tactics don’t exist in Canada’s cannabis space. Evoking emotion and lifestyle: not allowed. Big advertising spends displaying your product and its benefits: definitely not allowed. Sponsoring concerts and sporting events: well, Health Canada has already spelled out its position on that.
When everything you know about marketing goes out the window, how do you set apart your brand and build awareness and engagement? Here are five cannabis marketing campaigns that stood out and stayed compliant at the same time.
1. "That's Money" by UP Cannabis
In a creative twist, UP Cannabis launched a series of fake ads back in April 2019. For licensed producers, talking about cannabis directly isn’t permitted under the Cannabis Act. So, UP went the complete opposite route and decided not to talk about it at all.
The campaign features fake banking ads that are intended to catch your attention (because they would be terrible ads for banks had they been real). Headlines such as “Our interest rates are so high” followed by the URL isthisreal.ca, a link that cleverly takes you to their website and the headline “You’re here, that’s money.”
2. "Hi." by Tweed
Prior to legalization, Tweed launched a campaign featuring large headlines that simply read, “Hi.” These were often followed by secondary questions, all centred around the legalization of cannabis. The campaign was focused on educating the broader public on what legal cannabis and the legal cannabis market was going to look like.
Since Oct. 17, the company has continued to use “Hi” in their overall marketing strategy, educating customers on their products through in-store materials or at events. In a regulated space where education and public safety are a huge priority, Tweed hit the mark with this campaign.
It’s notable that Tweed was named Emerging Cult Brand of the Year in 2017 at The Gathering, a one-of-a-kind festival that celebrates brands from around the world with cult-like followings. That same year, Tweed was recognized alongside Levi’s and Fender for their unique marketing and community approach.
3. “It’s Four20 Somewhere” by FOUR20 Premium Market
As the vice president of marketing for FOUR20 Premium Market, I’m representing the only cannabis retailer on this list. I learned early on that because cannabis is federally illegal in the U.S., where every major social media outlet is headquartered, policies for sites like Facebook and Instagram have strict cannabis rules to consider (on top of Canada’s federal regulations).
Because of this, we stripped down our social media marketing to be nothing but brand awareness and community engagement. Our “It’s Four20 somewhere” campaign features crowdsourced photos from around the globe with FOUR20 stickers and apparel paired with the hashtag on social, #itsfour20somewhere. What started out as an idea to create intrigue and “FOMO” prior to legalization blew up into a campaign that has become part of our marketing identity and engagement strategy with consumers.
Not to mention, this campaign helped us earn an award for Best Social Media for Business in 2019 at SocialWest, the largest digital marketing conference in western Canada.
4. "R's Corner Store" by RIFF
RIFF is a recreational cannabis brand owned by Aphria and co-created with the artist collective Co.LAB. RIFF takes an urban-inspired approach to its marketing and branding and a very creative approach to their pop-up corner stores. R’s Corner Stores are pop-up corner stores that RIFF hosted in communities they were launching in.
According to event marketing, “R’s Corner Store’s day shift crew is bringing you a bit of neighbourhood flavour and bodega flair complete with classic snacks, goods, merchandise – and a CCTV selfie cam.”
5. Retro aesthetics by Houseplant
Co-founded by Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg in collaboration with Canopy Growth, Houseplantis a retro-focused brand that takes its 1970s approach all the way down to the VHS-inspired packaging. Around the time the brand officially launched in Canada in March 2019, a series of retro infomercial-style educational videos was released by Houseplant.
Teaching consumers in a captivating way about things like dosing safety and “stoner etiquette,” the videos were reminiscent of corporate training videos from the 1970s. The videos (paired with Rogen’s large social following) garnered a lot of engagement, but the brand has since removed the videos from their Instagram page and website.