Born & Bred's Co-Founders on Loyalty and Innovation in Cannabis

Our chat with George De'Ath and Kyle Merwin

George De'Ath and Kyle Merwin are co-founders of Born & Bred, a brand agency specializing in category builders and disruptors—including cannabis innovators such as Eaze, CLICK, G-Pen, Ascend Wellness and Main Stage. George is head of creative, while Kyle lead brand strategy and growth.

We spoke with George and Kyle for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.


Tell us...

Where you grew up, and where you live now.

Kyle: I was born in Bolivia, believe it or not. My parents moved to San Rafael when I was a kid so I grew up there, went to U.C. Berkeley, and now live in the NOPA (North of Panhandle) neighborhood in San Francisco. 

George: So I left England, where my parents and my accent are from, and made my way to San Francisco years ago.

Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.

Kyle: I'm a co-founder of Born & Bred and lead brand strategy and growth. Born & Bred is a brand agency that specializes in launching, evolving, and growing category builders and disruptors. We're based out of San Francisco, but work with companies across the globe. For any product in any industry, we aim to build a trailblazing brand, so partnering with cannabis companies that are pioneering their industry was a natural step.

George: I co-founded and am the head of creative at Born & Bred, where I lead our creative team and oversee creative direction. Our team creates anything and everything for a company's brand, and we've been fortunate enough to build brands for cannabis companies across the coast. Our aim is to relay cannabis products' deeper purpose and present cannabis to consumers through approachable branding that's relatable and engaging. Education and perception were initially the key components to address within cannabis branding, but now that cannabis is more welcomed, let's make cannabis brands that are bold and reflect its consumers. 

A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.

Kyle: I actually went to high school where the cannabis industry's illustrious 4/20 holiday was created. Every day after school, a group of students from San Rafael High School—called the Waldos—would gather by the Louis Pasteur statue at 4:20 p.m. to smoke weed. So I grew up keenly aware of the culture, but it wasn't until college that I started regularly consuming cannabis. Since then, it's helped me cope with A.D.D. and get better sleep so I can be more present in all aspects of life. 

A favorite flower, edible, product or brand.

George: My usual Eaze order is the KGB Torpedo Infused Pre-roll or WYLD gummies.

The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.

Kyle: Creating loyalty. The industry is very competitive, customers are diverse, and products lack differentiation. This makes it difficult for CPG brands to create unique, innovative and authentic experiences that keep their customers coming back. It's further compounded by a fragmented experience where retailers own the relationship with the customer. The current regulatory framework doesn't really allow CPG brands to have the kind of close relationship that D2C brands in other industries benefit from. This makes it even harder for marketers to control the experience and craft the brand for specific audiences. However, with stigma increasingly reversing, we are seeing brands get more bold, innovative and authentic in their stories, which hopefully will remove some of the noise and stick with audiences.  

One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.

Kyle: True cannabis innovation and the next wave of products; that is, cannabis companies are no longer just reimagining your standard flower, pre-roll, concentrate, vape and edible offerings, but inventing completely new products as a means to consume cannabis. The industry is pairing its plant knowledge with modern technology to create vehicles for cannabis that have never existed before. For example, CLICK's custom design for its cannabis-infused mouth-spray was built to give people the fast onset of vaping without having to actually vape. I love that we're seeing brands actually try to solve some of the biggest issues with existing products rather than try to spin them into something they're not. For example, the idea of building a "wellness brand" featuring vapes never really sat right with us.

A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.

Kyle: Eaze's Momentum program. The program's goal is to help BIPOC-owned/operated businesses scale and succeed on Eaze and beyond by offering curriculum and incentives to help dismantle barriers and provide access to the market. Social justice and equity are issues that are close to home for us and ones we strive to implement daily in both our personal and professional lives. It's always our aim to bring awareness by integrating coherent philanthropic initiatives into our clients' brand identities. 

A recent project you're proud of.

George: Eaze's rebrand. Born & Bred created their brand identity for launch, so, as they shift to verticalization, we rebranded by constructing new positioning that better reflected their latest products and focused on their loyal customers. The new branding pulls from the intersection of nerd culture and weed culture in an extended series of imaginative scenarios. This brand refresh is the first of a larger shift in the industry—as the market leader, Eaze understands that their objective is no longer to destigmatize weed for first-time smokers, but rather to celebrate weed for those who have already become regular consumers. The response was overwhelmingly positive, and we were humbled to be recognized with a Clio Award as a result of the campaign's success.

Someone else's project you admired recently.

George: Kiva Confections—specifically, their new brand Lost Farms is beautiful and has engaging depth. Kiva makes a notable impact because they have a clear understanding of their customer base by being consistent with their core values across the board while always allowing themselves to connect with novel audiences in new ways.

Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.

George: Last Prisoner Project. They're a nonprofit organization dedicated to cannabis criminal justice reform and hold the belief that if anyone is able to take advantage of the now-legal market, those individuals must also work to rebuild and repair the lives of the pioneers who made it possible. We support that same notion, so it's admirable to see their team of cannabis industry leaders, advocates, policy experts and reformists leading the way and actively freeing prisoners of the unjust war on drugs.

What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.

Kyle: Actor. 

George: Storm chaser. 

Higher Calling is a weekly series, publishing on Thursdays, where we chat with folks in the cannabis industry about their personal history and taste in cannabis and the future of cannabis marketing. For more about Higher Calling, and our Clio Cannabis program, please get in touch.

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Tim Nudd
Tim Nudd is editor in chief of the Clio Awards and editor of Muse by Clio. Previously, he was creative editor at Adweek.

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