Fresh Challenges and Opportunities for Cannabis Marketers in 2023

Playing in an entirely new arena

The elephant in the marketing room isn't specific to cannabis, but arises from changes in media and communications as a whole over recent years. More people have tools and access, with social media pulling the creativity out of so many folks who wouldn't have discovered or shared their talents had these platforms not existed. This has naturally raised the competitive bar for creativity and continues to push it higher by the day. Teenagers can throw down a video that feels personal, well written, well executed, and that hits hard ... by simply using their phones.

At the same time, nearly every platform has given people the ability to avoid ads. As a result, agencies and marketers are forced to show up in an entirely new arena and play to new audiences and trends that are always evolving. They must speak predominantly to a younger audience focused on absorbing and amplifying what's "cool and relevant" on any given day.

The classic advertising model of forced interruption to tell a minute-long story is no longer viable. Mind you, cannabis marketers never had this ability because we weren't allowed to engage in traditional paid media. We've always had to be scrappy, rather than rely on large media buys to spread messages over long periods of time.

The democratization of content has carved out a new space with a new code of conduct. The high level of polish that used to be advertising's strength is now, in some cases, a weakness. Social media audiences want to see and share content that their peers create. Gorgeous cinematography and intellectual/aspirational copywriting will work for a shrinking niche audience—but not the masses. It's not uncommon to hear about a couple that watch one or two popular shows and spend the rest of their TV time scanning YouTube videos from their favorite creators. Every aspect of creation and consumption is changing rapidly.

Although all this may seem bleak and daunting for advertisers, I believe it's leading to new growth, helping us craft improved and more relevant experiences for the future.

For me, it's exciting to have both new constraints and a fresh license to experiment. Even "cringe-worthy" has become a valid category for exploration. Just have fun with what you're doing, and your audience will follow. However, there is a lot more noise to cut through these days.

In cannabis specifically, every creative plays an important role to help normalize our space (all boats rise). Whether it is GZ1 giving fashion and artistic visibility to hash, Alice of Girls in Green offering cannabis education, Elbo appearing at ComplexCon, Roger Volodarsky touring the international scene, or Berner spreading the Cookies brand across the globe. 

These ambassadors craft a positive impression of our community that anyone can appreciate. I can't overstate how important this is. Many different perspectives, all sharing a message of love and beauty for the plant, will drive change. These creators have raised their games in the past year, and now seem to appeal to more people outside of cannabis.

In 2023, exploring how to utilize digital platforms to devise new formats will be the challenge. It's not enough to simply show up. You have to do something different, spill your guts—and make it entertaining. That's a tall order. There are thousands of people putting themselves out there. How will you be different?

This year, I'd like to see way more people open up about their usage and participate in the culture. 
There's a good chance that at least 1 out of 4 of your favorite celebrities or musicians are using cannabis, and it's a shame that it has to be kept closeted to save face (lest artists lose business opportunities and sponsorships because it makes a few folks uncomfortable).

There's still so much residual shame and oppression both socially and legislatively that needs to be addressed. The more we speak our truth, the more the universe will absorb, like ink into water. We must consistently open up when it is uncomfortable so that those in our future can do it without guilt.

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Kirk Summers
Kirk Summers is creative director at Puffco, a concentrate consumption innovation and technology company.

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