With the legality and perception of cannabis changing, how can cannabis advertisers adjust their strategy for maximum ROI? How shifting perceptions and COVID’s impact leave a massive opportunity for digital and programmatic.
2020 was a big year for the cannabis movement and cannabis advertising. In the US, cannabis is now fully legal (medical and recreational) in 11 states plus Washington, DC., and legal for medical use in 34 states. Legal cannabis sales reached nearly $20 billion this past year and are expected to top $40 billion annually within the next four years (TechCrunch).
For cannabis advertisers, there are still several hurdles: state by state differences in legality, lingering misconceptions coupled with shifting demographics and reputation, and lack of information or educational resources.
We’ll cover: changing attitudes, emerging demographics and usage data, the coronavirus pandemic’s effect, and digital strategies for success.
Changing Attitudes & A Disconnect Between “Typical” Weed Users and Those Purchasing
The “typical” cannabis user is no longer just your older brother’s friend hanging in their parents’ basement. Cannabis users and perceptions of usage have evolved and expanded. From cancer patients and the elderly looking to increase their appetite and minimize pain naturally, to tech-savvy “biohacker” types looking to maximize their health, and everywhere in between (Healthline, WebMD, Harvard Medical, TechCrunch, and Vogue all have written about it, to name a few).
According to data from Oasis Intelligence and Adweek, there’s no single description for cannabis consumers, but as a composite, they’re 30-something college graduates working full-time jobs. They’re committed to social justice and legal reform, they’re hungry for information, and they use cannabis primarily as a wellness tool (Adweek). 48% say they consume cannabis for wellness rather than recreational purposes, with 19% making no distinction between the two (Oasis Intelligence via Adweek). This means cannabis is more than an alternative medicine and might just be…a health trend.
Based on the data, most use cannabis weekly, price is a major factor in choosing a brand to purchase from, and usage and spend have increased during the coronavirus pandemic.
Cannabis Usage Trends:
- 83% use cannabis weekly (Oasis Intelligence Poll of 20,000 participants via Adweek).
- 60% spend more than $50 a month on cannabis products, and 38% spend more than $100 (Oasis Intelligence via Adweek).
- Flower and edibles are the most popular forms of cannabis, while interest in infused beverages has doubled recently, with 17% of survey participants saying they use the products (Oasis Intelligence via Adweek).
- Price is a key driver for 50% of consumers, and 46% bought directly from a dispensary. (Oasis Intelligence via Adweek)
- Washington is the leading U.S. state based on cannabis sales for recreational use (Statista).
- 44% report planned increase in cannabis use during COVID-19 outbreak in the United States in 2020 (Statista)
- In 2019, almost 127 million people had used marijuana in their lifetime, a substantial increase from 104 million in 2009 (Statista)
- 66% of respondents replied in favor of legalizing marijuana in October 2019 (Statista).
The Pandemic Effect
on Cannabis & Cannabis Advertising
Ecommerce skyrocketed: With more stuck at home than any time in recent history (coupled with stress and anxiety), it’s no surprise that cannabis use jumped at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. 44% report using or planning to use multiple times per day, and 39% answered five or more days per week (Statista) Luckily, many dispensaries were classified as “essential” businesses during pandemic in many states alongside grocery stores, gas stations, and pharmacies (TechCrunch). Retail sales of medical and recreational cannabis in the United States were projected to eclipse $15 billion by the end of 2020, an increase of approximately 40% over 2019 sales figures, according to Marijuana Business Factbook, and experts estimate that the pandemic accelerated the shift to e-commerce by five years. One brand, Dutchie, experienced a 700% surge in online orders and a 32% increase in average order size since March (TechCrunch).
Decrease in events or in-person exploration and educational opportunities: This goes without saying, really. But it’s worth it to note that the cannabis industry relied heavily on live events for educational and experimentation purposes. Those new to the “cannabis game” could attend a live event to speak with experts, try new strands, and determine the best purchase for their intentions. Cannabis advertisers should experiment with live virtual videos or events that are short and educational to help potential consumers make purchase decisions, as well as look to written content. Original content – over live events – can live longer on the internet and allow new and returning consumers to access it at any time. For example, During the pandemic, Charlotte’s Web CBD and cannabis product company debuted the education series “Searching for Answers.”
Cost-Conscious Buying & Trust: The pandemic and subsequent economic downturn obviously shifted the focus of consumers to more cost-conscious purchasing patterns. Expect far less impulse-buying and more research and cost-evaluation from consumers that will likely stick around. This is where education comes into play; consumers will be more likely to spend with a brand that shows expertise and trustworthiness than those who are flashy. And consumers “will go with their tried and true” to complete repeat purchases over finding a new brand each time.
The Importance of Original Content, Trustworthiness, & Education in Cannabis Advertising
Like other industries that require an educational component to their sales strategy, cannabis will require valuable content creation and scalable distribution efforts to educate the public on the benefits of cannabis and its changing reputation.
Individuality and original content will also matter. According to CMO Sam Boyer to Adweek, “Original content will be a huge driver for cannabis advertising. It’s definitely more engaging at a time when people are looking for information and want to hear about health and wellness. The authentic voices will really stand out.”
Why Digital Advertising and Programmatic For Cannabis Advertising
- In 2018, 84% of spend on cannabis retail advertising went to outdoor ads like billboards. The second largest share went to newspapers with 5% of total spend, while only 4% went to digital advertising (Kantar).
- Cannabis advertisers spent $370 million on digital display ads in 2019, an increase from $238 million in 2018. (DashTwo)
According to PrograMetrix, outdoor advertising faces strict restrictions depending on the state (a required placement distance from schools and children, for example); beyond billboards, marketers most frequently advertised through events (at which no cannabis could be offered or consumed); on endemic cannabis websites like High Times and WeedMaps (which only reached a small niche of cannabis consumers); and in any print outlets who would accept their ads (which ranged from alt-weeklies and print magazines to larger local papers).
Scale with programmatic: To reach beyond niche sites and dated demographics, programmatic offers the chance to scale. Huge numbers of high-traffic, mainstream sites will accept programmatic cannabis ad buys—sites like USA Today, HuffPost, Newsweek, Politico, The Chive, and ESPN (PrograMetrix). Cannabis advertisers in legal states are also required by law to ensure that their marketing campaigns target adults 21 and over— programmatic platforms are more able to adjust accordingly, not to mention measure ROI and meet tangible KPIs and goals. Programmatic ad buys offer this data by tracking conversions; ad buys in print outlets or one off digital events, for instance, cannot.
As of 2019, digital ad spending surpassed traditional (TV, radio, print, etc.) for the first time in history, and by 2021, 70 percent of all digital ads—and 88 percent of display ads—will be bought and sold using programmatic technology. Cannabis is considered the fastest growing industry in the United States and Canada, but well behind in its digital spend. It’s time to catch up: the opportunity is a gaping hole.
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