2 Minutes With … Tony Billmeyer, CMO of Show-Me Organics
Tony Billmeyer went from advertising account exec to cannabis marketer. He spent eight years at agencies like BBDO, Goodby Silverstein and Erich & Kallman before joining the cannabis industry in 2021. Over the past two years he's helped Show-Me Organics grow into a market leader in Missouri.
We spent two minutes with Tony to learn more about his background, his creative inspirations and recent work he's admired.
Tony, tell us …
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I was born and raised in St. Louis and returned home in 2021 to join the nascent medical cannabis industry in Missouri.
How you first got interested in cannabis.
I moved to San Francisco when California was a medical market and saw it transition to a recreational one a couple years later. I was awestruck by how quickly cannabis brands went from zero to a million, both in dollars spent and people reached. I was familiar with what out-of-home costs in San Francisco were, so it was eye opening to see a brand like Eaze completely take over the city with billboards and bus wraps.
One of your favorite projects you've ever worked on.
My favorite campaign was a rebrand for Jolly Rancher, because it's exactly the kind of work I got into advertising to do: off-the-wall humor with a brilliantly simple message. We set out to help Jolly Rancher build a new distinctive brand asset, which became a tiny cowboy that rides Jolly Ranchers like a horse while hyping the candy's mouthwatering flavors. The miniature character would be sent flying when a kid unwraps the candy's yellow-twist wrappers—Jolly Rancher's most recognizable brand asset. We had a dream team working on this from the agency, plus Harold Einstein directing, and an awesome client team led by Kelsey Webster.
A recent project you're proud of.
I'm really proud of our campaign that helped us transform Buoyant Bob into a brand, because it's exactly the kind of outside-the-box thinking required to break through in cannabis. The goal is to make Buoyant Bob the most fun brand in cannabis, and we needed to take a different path because of all the restrictions around cannabis advertising. The idea to make a single and verify Bob on Spotify resonated because it immediately unlocked a new way for Buoyant Bob to express himself without all of the design and messaging limitations of advertising. We launched the single to coincide with the opening of recreational cannabis sales in Missouri. We found fun ways to expand the campaign with retail takeovers, vinyl records at dispensaries, and a bunch of Bob fans sharing Instagram Stories using "The Man Who Got So High." We also launched a second single.
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today, and how to approach it.
Restrictions make it hard to capture mainstream attention. Successful cannabis marketers will still look to PR, nontraditional advertising and brand partnerships to break into the mainstream. We have a unique opportunity in cannabis to leverage the headwinds from a century of prohibition and cultural stigmas to create novel, "first ever" experiences that are newsworthy because they're historic.
One thing about how the cannabis industry is evolving that you're excited about.
I'm excited to see the long-term cultural impact of legal cannabis in St. Louis play out, because drinking beer is inextricably linked with the culture. It's a fantastic city for the arts, and I believe a cultural shift away from drinking can make the city more appealing to outsiders.
Someone else's work, in cannabis or beyond, that you admired lately.
The launch of St. Louis City SC in Major League Soccer has been very impressive. In their first season they've done an amazing job of bringing in the top local restaurants, honoring the lost Black neighborhood of Mill Creek Valley with a moving art installation, and bringing in legends like Metro Boomin' for pregame concerts. I was lucky to have two chances to work on the Golden State Warriors account, and I can appreciate the difficulty of building a strong brand within a sports organization. They've really put the other St. Louis teams—the Cardinals and Blues—on notice with a superior stadium experience.
A book, movie, TV show or podcast you recently found inspiring.
I'm not a big podcast listener but I just heard Jack Smith's interview on My First Million and it's inspiring because he takes a convention-questioning approach to everything in life and business. In marketing we talk a lot about "human insights" as the foundation for a strategy or campaign, and Jack's way of thinking is a good reminder that the most powerful insights come from understanding and analyzing the fundamentals—not the intricacies—of how and why something works the way it does.
A visual artist or band/musician you admire.
Jayvn Solomon is a St. Louis artist who has a project called Loutopia where he reimagines an idyllic version of the city that integrates art and nature into unused or dilapidated public spaces. I was fortunate to collaborate with Jayvn and another legendary St. Louis artist, Brock Seals, on a commemorative poster for our Missouri's Own x Red Hot Riplet partnership.
Your favorite fictional character.
Buoyant Bob, the man who got so high!
Someone worth following in social media.
Your main strength as a marketer/creative.
I have an ability to evaluate creative and identify which pieces of work can have the greatest business impact.
Your biggest weakness.
I struggle to conceal my emotion and nonverbal communication at times, especially when I don't agree with something. Working remotely helps.
Something people would find surprising about you.
I don't own any denim.
One thing that always makes you happy.
My golden retriever, Yoshi.
One thing that always makes you sad.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.
I'd like to think I would be running an Açaí shop, but I would almost certainly still be in San Francisco making ads.