FlowerShop's JB Sugar on Building an Ad Platform for Cannabis
JB Sugar is currently the CRO of FlowerShop Media, an ad platform designed specifically for cannabis.
Previously, JB has served in digital Leadership roles at TVGuide.com, SportsIllustrated.com, Live Nation, MapQuest (AOL) and 4INFO.
He lives in Burlington, Vermont, with his wife Suzie and dog Lola.
We spoke with JB for our Higher Calling series, where we chat with leaders in the cannabis space.
JB, tell us...
Where you grew up, and where you live now.
I grew up on the "mean streets" of Chappaqua, New York. Spent a lot of time in New York City in the advertising business, enjoying the chaotic pace, music and food. Now, live in Burlington, Vermont. It's a great little city that punches well above its weight in culture and food. In the pre/post-pandemic world, it is super accessible to NYC by plane, so I am an hour away from there, and then on to anywhere. But love the crisp mountain air and water views combined with everything Vermont.
Your current role in the cannabis industry, and where you're based.
Currently I am the CRO at FlowerShop Media. We are an ad platform that is built specifically for cannabis. We combine best data practices—age, location, purchase habits—as well as programmatic buying elements and compliance and look to place it all on premium display digital inventory.
FlowerShop believes that these brands and dispensaries all have a story to tell and should be able to reach their audience just as any normal package good or retail brand should.
A story about the positive impact cannabis has had on your life.
To me, cannabis has always been about relaxing and enjoying life, whether it be at a concert—jam bands are "my jam" but all music sounds better and richer with cannabis—or elsewhere. I think the real positive things are discovering all the different uses this amazing plant has to offer and even those that are yet to be discovered. For instance, my mother uses CBD to help alleviate the pain she has from Parkinson's—what a great thing.
I don't want to get too spiritual, but I truly believe this plant was put on this earth for a reason, and the uncovering of the endocannabinoid system in humans is all the proof that I needed for that.
A favorite flower, edible, product, or brand.
I prefer to smoke, and for that I prefer sativas. Currently I'm growing Super Lemon Haze in my garden.
The biggest challenge cannabis marketers face today.
Breaking through the noise. The pandemic has proven that the industry has a firm foothold in place that is vital and resilient, but as in any industry, not all are going to make it. I believe those that can figure out how to market themselves properly are the ones that are going to make it.
One thing you're excited about right now in cannabis branding, partnerships or marketing.
I love what some of the brands are doing up here in Vermont, producing great CBD products and readying themselves for adult retail. Standouts up here in Vermont are Ceres (named after the Roman goddess of agriculture), Magic Mann and a burgeoning cannatourism company—Vermontijuana.
Nationally, I like what is being done by some of the MSOs. Cresco is producing 6-second spots for Mindy's Edibles that are first-rate. I also like the way that MSOs are launching multiple brands—Holistic is doing some good work and I cannot wait the see what the Garcia brand becomes in cannabis.
I also love the excitement of the unknown in this industry. It's new and there is a lot of evolution that is yet to come.
A cannabis trade/social justice organization that you support.
Hands down, I support the Last Prisoner Project. I am on the board of a small nonprofit up here, the Pennywise Foundation, and I convinced them to start to partner with the LPP. Why? Simple. Nobody should be behind bars for selling this plant.
A recent project you're proud of.
I am proud to be able to work with our team at FlowerShop. We are bringing together years of combined digital knowledge and experience in adtech and martech to make this exciting time of growth and discovery in the business come to life in display, video, OTT and native advertising. Brands and dispensaries were somewhat limited in their scope and reach; we are here to break that wide open on a mainstream level.
Someone else's project you admired recently.
There is a cannabis-specific agency up here in Vermont called CannaPlanners. They do great work in helping to ideate the brand and set up the corresponding sites for success. Recently they worked with Magic Mann. I know that CannaPlanners helped in the creation of the logo, packaging and then worked with them to bring it all to life on their site. Magic Mann is opening a brick-and-mortar up here soon as well. Exciting to see ideas turn into brands that grow and come to life.
Someone you admire in cannabis who's doing great things.
My current "Mount Rushmore of cannabis" (we can discuss over a smoke sesh if you wish):
Dr. Raphael Mechaloulam. Discovered and identified Delta-9 THC and others.
Jack Herer. OG cannabis writer and activist. The Emperor Wears No Clothes is in its 12th printing.
Steve DeAngelo. Father of retail cannabis. Love his passion and advocacy and desire to push boundaries.
Deadheads. I have heard from several knowledgeable sources that all the seed and strain trading that happened in the parking lot at Grateful Dead shows was the genesis of about 85 percent of all the strains in existence today.
What you'd be doing if you weren't in the cannabis industry.
If not for this, I would still be selling advertising in some way, shape or form (I'm a 2nd generation "ad guy"). Failing that, voiceover in radio (I have a face made for it!).
Higher Calling is a weekly Muse series 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.