Building Cannabis Brands Without Access To Advertising Platforms

"Getting past the intense hangover from prohibition is what matters."

Friends,

Successfully building a brand in any industry is a difficult task, building brands in the Canadian cannabis industry is a completely different beast.

Modern marketing leaders in the Canadian cannabis industry have to contend with an inability to access traditional advertising platforms such as Facebook and Google, they are very limited in what they can put on their products’ packaging and so much more.

For today’s publication of 4PM I had the absolute pleasure of interviewing John who is the Director Of Marketing at one of Canada’s most successful cannabis companies.

John McEachern is the former Founder & CEO of Peak Drive Beverages and is currently the Director of Marketing for Canadian cannabis giant Aphria.

Do you think it's a good thing that the cannabis industry is not dependent on platforms such as Google & Facebook? 

No, I think it’s unfortunate Facebook and Google prohibit Cannabis brands from advertising on their platforms.

Millions of Canadians congregate for hours on Facebook and Instagram each day and use Google to make purchase decisions. Why can’t our industry play an appropriate role within such a huge swathe of our consumers’ online lives?

As an industry, we offer safe, highly regulated products. I welcome many more opportunities to tell more Canadians over the age of 18 (or otherwise mandated) about the award-winning products Aphria produces like Broken Coast flower and Good Supply vapes.

I don’t want to be overly political or moralistic, but it seems like some of the content on Facebook these days is way more incendiary than a few pre-rolls. Sure, constraints often breed creativity. But in this case, the exclusion just feels arbitrary.

Certain craft cannabis producers are starting to list the top four terpene profiles on their products’ packaging, is this something you could see LP’s that have more scale adopting in the future? 

John: I think it’s inevitable all producers will list major terpenes on their labels in time. The data is being widely captured on a lot level and so there will be inexorable consumer and competitive pressure for it to be published.

One aspect it seems the industry should first standardize is terpene measurement protocols. I’ve seen published terpene data that seems divorced from the flower I find in the jar. Until we have industry alignment there’s going to be an incentive for some to juice the data. Terps measured at harvest may be materially different to terps present after curing, for example.

Over a longer-term horizon, I can see a “Cannabis Facts Table” akin to the Nutrition Facts Table carried on all foods; effectively a mandatory, slimmed-down CoA featuring primary terpenes and a longer tail of cannabinoids.


Cannabis Content For Cannabis Professionals


In such a new industry, there were always going to be gaps in consumer education. How important do you think it is to bridge these gaps in the coming years?

Firstly, this position is written from the perspective of a brand owner.

In principle, delivering consumer education to improve product knowledge is a good thing. The question is: who wants to pay for it?

Education is expensive to deliver, typically less focused on driving immediate-term sales, and a positive externality that benefits competitors as well.

I suspect “Education” is a point of contention many of the bigger LPs debate on a regular basis. Easy to put a box on a PowerPoint slide, harder to cut the cheque.

The good news: the category, formerly operating completely underground, functions fairly well on word of mouth and received wisdom. The bad news: a fair amount of that understanding is incomplete or incorrect.

But in terms of the future growth and health of the industry, I don’t deem closing education gaps to be of primary importance. Instead, I’d focus on breaking down the stigmas and stereotypes associated with cannabis. And I think our industry groups are well placed to lead this charge.

Today maybe 8 out of 10 Canadians of age wouldn’t feel comfortable setting foot into a dispensary. Getting past the intense hangover from prohibition is what matters. Get Canadians into the channel and our deeply researched budtender partners will grab the baton.

Are platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn important in the playbook of a marketing leader in the cannabis industry? 

Absolutely. With so few channels available for communicating with consumers and stakeholders we need to double down on what we have available.

On a personal level, I feel Twitter is an invaluable source of market intelligence. There are many Industry Insiders who share generously, which helps build my category understanding.

But it remains a shame the industry is so limited to these platforms. It doesn’t take much advertising spend to achieve off-putting levels of campaign frequency on Twitter, for example.


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All opinions expressed in this piece are solely the opinion of John McEachern, and should not be taken as the viewpoint of Aphria Inc.