The recreational use of marijuana is gaining steam in the United States and some believe that brands should light up and capitalize on the trend.

PR Week's Lindsay Stein explains what types types of companies should consider aligning their brands with the marijuana movement, and why:

First off, it has to make sense for your company to play in the marijuana space, so food and snack brands, go for it – as long as the communications isn’t targeting children. Ben & Jerry’s, Pepsi, and Arby’s are among the companies who got in on the 4/20 revelry this week.

She goes on:

With marijuana’s medicinal elements, health and wellness brands can also get involved in the sector. Since marijuana is often prescribed to glaucoma patients to relieve eye pressure – including actress Roseanne Barr who openly talked about her medical weed-smoking earlier this week – it makes sense for an eye-drop brand to partner with a vaporizer company.

While noting that there are some brands that should avoid marijuana marketing – hardware companies, toy companies and automakers – Stein suggests that brands for which marijuana is appropriate shouldn't wait too long to build an association. "As long as brands make a relevant association to the marijuana industry – whether to edibles, medicinal products, vaporizers, oils, or events – and promote safe consumption habits, now is the time to step out of the comfort zone," she writes.

But is she right?

While there is no doubt that the legalization of recreational marijuana is driving the growth of a weed culture that presents huge financial opportunities to budding businesses and established brands alike, when it comes to brand management, dollars today don't always make sense tomorrow.

At best, marijuana looks like it could be the new alcohol: widely considered to be safe when used in moderation, and socially acceptable to consume in moderation.

But just because beer and wine contain healthful elements doesn't mean that health and wellness brands, for instance, should incorporate a hefty dose of IPA or Cabernet Sauvignon into their marketing campaigns.

Brands absolutely need to be aware of the Zeitgeist, but savvy brand management is about more than awareness of cultural trends. It's about understanding the key aspects of the brand, including its core values, and finding ways to maintain and demonstrate them to consumers in relevant ways.

That doesn't necessarily equate to aligning the brand with every trend du jour, no matter how powerful it might be. If the connection to a trend isn't there, it isn't there.

Even if a potential connection to marijuana can be made, brands should consider the fact that, while growing numbers believe recreational use of marijuana should be permitted, negative stereotypes associated with marijuana use still exist and aren't likely to disappear any time soon.

This means brands that rush to associate themselves with the drug may find that they confuse, distance themselves from, or even alienate certain target customers.

At the end of the day, there is no doubt that legalized recreational marijuana could be one of the biggest business opportunities in the first part of the twenty-first century. For that reason, brands won't be able to ignore it and how it changes the cultural landscape they constantly have to navigate.

But when it comes to associating with weed, some brands stand to benefit more than others, and some stand to lose. Most brands could do worse than waiting to see which category they are most likely to fall into.

Patricio Robles

Published 24 April, 2015 by Patricio Robles

Patricio Robles is a tech reporter at Econsultancy. Follow him on Twitter.

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Comments (3)

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Eugene Burke, Principal & Program Manager at Diamondsoft Group LLC

I'd find it an immediate turn-off and it would create a long-lasting residual distaste for the brand.

over 3 years ago

Eric Layland

Eric Layland, President at Canna Ventures

I agree that leveraging the momentum of a cultural trend is opportunistic and small part of brand management. Neither is it sustainable for the long term. Jumping from trend to trend won’t result in loyalty. Our firm understands this and it was the impetus for the first cannabis consumer attitudinal brand survey we did last year. There are clearly 4 targetable market segments for brand managers to consider. Each segment has clear preferences in brand attributes (a summary of the survey is available here: http://cndg.tl/1Ezz5lH).

The clear take away for mainstream brand managers and cannabis marketers it to know what motivates your audience at an emotional level. Hitching a ride on a cultural trend will last only so long. That said, legalization in the states is only just beginning. Prohibition is dead and progressive brands are taking steps to understand the emerging market.

over 3 years ago

Thom Feeney

Thom Feeney, Marketing Manager at Noodle Live

Might someone else find that your hard and fast, inflexible approach (stated above) creates a long-lasting residual distaste for Diamondsoft Group? Don't be daft. You'd develop a distaste for Ben & Jerry's for linking a campaign to 4/20? I don't believe you.

FWIW I think the issue here is whether the link appears forced or not. As with any brand trying to link up with any trend. Coca-Cola and sporting events seem inextricably linked now, but were Sunny D to attempt to do similar (in the UK at least) it would appear try-hard and ill-fitting.

Ice cream and snack companies capitalising on 4/20 seems a sensible and somewhat tongue-in-cheek piece of marketing which would work well, but more 'sensible' companies should be careful.

over 3 years ago

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