Creative Cannabis: How Ad Restrictions on Cannabis Companies is Changing the Way They Market
Since the very first recreational marijuana dispensaries opened their doors in Massachusetts back in 2018, cannabis has surged in the Bay State. In a report from the state Cannabis Control Commission, adult-use recreational marijuana sales are expected to double – from $696M last year to a projected 1.4 billion this year. By 2025, projections predict that there will be almost $2.6 billion in sales and an almost 6 times increase from 2019 sales numbers. In a far cry from the early days of legalization, where just a handful of dispensaries were allowed to operate, more than 150 brand new marijuana retailers have received approval to open from the state in recent months – many eager to get their own piece of this rapidly growing pie.
As with any rapidly expanding industry, firms and retailers will turn to marketing in order to increase customer brand recognition and profits. However, the Marijuana industry is different. In the state of Massachusetts, restrictions on advertisements and marketing for cannabis products severely inhibit the ways in which companies can reach customers. In order for such advertisements to be approved, the company must prove that more than 85% of its advertisement audience is under the age of 21.
To get around these restrictions, companies had to get creative – turning to lesser-known tactics to try and make up for the lack of traditional marketing channels. The co-founders of Tree House Cannabis, Ture Turnbull and Wes Ritchie, are in the process of opening several new locations across the state. Unlike other companies that simply put up billboards on the side of highways, Tree House Cannabis planned an alternative approach. In an interview done with MassLive, Ritchie states that cannabis companies have to “engage [the community] in a really thoughtful way” while staying compliant with strict regulations. This community outreach is a central part of how Tree House Cannabis markets themselves – generating local buzz through small-scale affinity work rather than large ad campaigns. “It’s not like you can go big in advertising in cannabis”, Ritchie added. “A lot of stuff is restricted, so we’re doing a community-building model and an affinity-specific model”.
In the same vein, Sieh Samura is a Boston-born entrepreneur opening a new dispensary called Yamba Market in Cambridge’s Central Square. His ties with his community, created when he worked as a medical marijuana caregiver and a consumer rights activist, have given him an opening to market his shop as something more than just a cannabis store. Affectionately known as “Chief”, Sieh maintains that his connections with the people and community he has served have helped him get the word out about his new shop – without relying on more traditional marketing practices. Sieh, speaking about his strategy, said that the restrictive regulatory situation in Massachusetts has “lended itself to some of what we call guerilla marketing… [and] that’s what the smart cannabis companies are doing”.
There are numerous stories just like these all across the state – as entrepreneurs of all types attempt to navigate a strange new land in which the traditional rules of marketing do not apply. With no access to TV advertisements and website front pages, cannabis companies are creating more personal and low-level campaigns to compensate for those many restrictions – a fascinating and constantly evolving consequence of change in Massachusetts.