Marketing Comes to Marijuana

Reggae musician Bob Marley, in addition to being one of the most recognizable cannabis users in history, is now the face of its business. Langevin/File/AP Images

By Associate Editor Tim Baker

In November 2014, the family of late musician Bob Marley announced the launch of what it claimed would be the first global cannabis brand, Marley Natural. The brand plans to begin offering cannabis products, including heirloom strains, in 2015. Their press conference was a far cry from what marijuana advertising has been in the past—ranging between word of mouth and non-existent. Rather than hearing about new strains from shady characters and being forced through the charade of "for tobacco use only" products, legalization means cannabis marketing can finally come out of the shadows and into the fore. Just before Marley's family made their announcement, two more states, Alaska and Oregon—as well as the District of Columbia—legalized recreational use for adults over the age of 21. But as Jeremy Carr, veteran of the Los Angeles dispensary business and mastermind behind the upcoming BlazeNow app, knows, being in on the ground floor of the new cannabis industry isn't exactly smooth sailing. BlazeNow plans to be one of the first marketing tools to bring clarity, transparency and accessibility to the legal cannabis industry, but according to Carr, that industry hasn't fully established its ground rules yet.

"Overall, it's a nightmare. It's very risky," Carr says. "The product itself we can't ship over state lines, and there's a lot of competition within Los Angeles. Navigating licensing issues and location issues, they're definitely difficult. One of my partners was involved in a shop in San Francisco and had to pay rent on a location for two years before they were approved."

One company, Dixie Elixirs, provides Coloradans with cannabis-infused products, including soft drinks, chocolates and mints. But what sets them apart from other edible manufacturers and has allowed them to expand their reach into California's medical cannabis market is their savvy advertising and focus on information. Their products are packaged in futuristic, colorful ways, and one of their website's most prominent tabs leads customers to a wealth of information about the products and the company. It's this focus on education that seems to be defining the young industry. Information, not sticky buds, is the defining asset for companies like Dixie Elixirs and Carr's MediaTechnics.

Dixie Elixirs products include infused breath mints, peach iced tea and topical balm packaged not like illicit substances but normal products offering a futuristic yet innocuous packaging that is more reminiscent of a normal pharmacy. Dixie Elixirs
Topical_Relief Balm
Dixie Elixirs
Dixie Elixir

Carr, for his part, is trying to build the cannabis advertising market on a base of pure information with BlazeNow, which will offer advertising and data collection services to dispensaries, expanding their metrics and their reach. In the process, he hopes cannabis will be looked at as a viable investment, not an economic upstart and outlier.

"It's certainly exciting to be a part of the industry. It's rewarding to be a part of something brand new," Carr says. "I don't have a tech background, but over the last year, I've worked with amazing developers who've been working on advertising and data collection platforms for the cannabis industry." At the moment, this sector of the cannabis market is dominated by Weedmaps, a platform which allows users to compare information about various dispensaries.

"Our competitor Weedmaps was first to market, had a great idea and the shops really rely on them for traffic," Carr explains. "Their prices are through the roof, and customer service is not so great, but I see the need for it. At my shop we pay them $3,000/month. A superior product developed by people who understand the industry and the product and the consumer would help the shops, certainly. And the consumer will like it. It's a very viable investment." To prove his point, Carr plans to offer the BlazeNow platform for free up to a certain point. Ironically, it's the same tactic a drug dealer might use in order to hook a new client: The first taste is on the house. As the industry changes, basic economic principles never do.

This article appears in Newsweek's Special Edition, Weed 2.0, by Issue Editor Tim Baker

Ryan Etter