The diversity of our community has always been a powerful driver for change. But I’ve been thinking about how the introduction of massive legal businesses has disrupted the industry in some ways.
It seems like you can’t turn a corner in Los Angeles without running into a billboard advertising cannabis products, businesses or brands. As someone that works in the industry, it shouldn’t bother me. But sometimes, it does.
Trapped in La Cienega’s rush hour death grip, I wondered — why do some cannabis ads make me cringe? I realized that it had nothing to do with the company or what they said. What actually bothered me was how some of these billboards accessorized cannabis as a consumer good and as an identity. That somehow invoking the words, Cannabis, weed, bud, made you cool. Made you in on something exclusive — and, by extension, the brand.
In many ads like those billboards, the relation between the brand and the cannabis community feels tenuous and flirty in a way that perplexes me.
That’s because these companies are mainly looking to attract new cannabis consumers entering the market for the first time. With only a small frame of reference for the cannabis community, or trusted sources of information on the plant, many new consumers are at the whims of businesses willing to burn their cash to influence the public.
In general, cannabis companies are not seeking nefarious ends. However, the effect their advertising could have on the consumer industry may redefine the identity of cannabis consumers going forward. Rather than introducing new consumers to the community, this advertising appears aimed at branding cannabis as an accessory to, and statement of, one’s identity. These ads work to mold the future of the consumer market. Doing so eliminates the need to engage with other consumers in the cannabis community, and allows businesses greater influence over the future market.
Faking Community Engagement Is Not Sustainable
It’s one thing to appeal to the cannabis community in marketing strategies and another thing entirely to genuinely engage with people. Businesses that fail to engage pre-legalization communities are reliant on new consumers, which may not translate to repeat business. Competition between the top cannabis brands is fierce. This is what drives massive corporate cannabis businesses to continually out-market their competitors. They compete for the attention of new consumers at the cost of building trust with reliable customers already in the market.
To me, cannabis is not an accessory and it does not define who I am. That must be my turnoff.
So what bothers me about these kinds of advertisements? I don’t see many execute on their promises to the cannabis community. Action is what defines your relationship to the community. Some companies in the cannabis industry market effectively to consumers, but fail to share their philanthropy and advocacy through their marketing as much as they share memes or colorful graphics. And this isn’t to say that every business neglects advocacy or philanthropy.
I believe that we can do better.
What Is The Cannabis Community?
The cannabis community is composed of every part of the industry and market. Consumers, scientists, growers, doctors, patients, retailers, attorneys, academics, activists, companies and everyone in between make up the community. It is a network composed of all persons connected to the plant. The people are the community. Being a part of the community has nothing to do with what anyone says, but it has everything to do with the actions you choose to perform. What you do determines how engaged you are in the community.
Inclusivity is key to building a future community that values diversity — and that shouldn’t prevent us from voicing our criticisms of individuals and groups in the cannabis space. Being critical of entities and our city officials is our tool for building a cannabis community that both welcomes everyone and pushes for equity in the space.
Criticism is not meant to impune. Rather, criticism is feedback for improvement. Without being critical and pushing for change, some companies will continue to treat cannabis as a fashionable accessory. The status quo reigns.
New consumers and businesses absolutely need to be welcomed into the community. The spread of misinformation and ill-informed advertising in our industry underscores the importance of inclusivity. By welcoming new folks into the community, we build stronger bonds and networks that empower consumers and independent businesses in the cannabis space.
We at NUGL believe that building partnerships across the community, with as many folks as possible, is a powerful tool for overcoming inequity in the cannabis industry. We’re working to connect the community by providing a platform for the voices of businesses, entrepreneurs, and individuals. Interviews with influential activists and independent businesses air every Wednesday on NUGL TV, giving you a closeup of the cannabis industry on the ground floor. Hosts Bigg A and E3 of Rich & Ruthless take you to places in the cannabis industry that you never thought you’d go. NUGL TV, the NUGL App, and NUGL Magazine are all platforms for us to build together.