Running a dispensary is hard enough without the regulatory roadblocks that can make it feel impossible to just get the word out. But frustrating though it is, it’s not an impossible task. It just requires an ability to think outside the box. Can an ad successfully market a product without naming it? You be the judge. Drum roll, please: Here’s a selection of a few of our favorite cannabis ads and campaigns that have triumphed in the face of strong odds.
Exciting Cannabis Ads and Campaigns
Directed by Academy Award-winning director Spike Jonze, this two-minute short takes on a Smithsonian-style journey from President George Washington’s hemp farm to the hard realities of the present-day War on Drugs, and ending in a quietly uplifting celebration of both how far we’ve come and how much remains to be done.
We’ve written about high-tech vape pen/spaceship designer Dosist before. It turns out the cannabis company’s bent towards the experimental doesn’t stop with their product line—it extends to ads, too. When Canada approved adult-use cannabis, the California-based company found itself locked out of the Canadian market on technicalities. So it launched a campaign, playing on the “censored” nature of its products to make a cheeky point. And guess what? The idea worked: Nearly 80,000 Canadians sent letters of protest to their representatives and soon Dosist was available on the Canadian market.
Here’s one of the more innovative cannabis ads. It took marijuana to the streets via a disarmingly direct billboard and social media campaign. Featuring hard numbers on the many beneficial effects of legalization—from a drop in opioid overdoses to a flatline in youth cannabis usage in Colorado and Washington—the giant outdoor displays make a clearcut case for allowing the legal marketplace to expand and develop. As the so-called “Yelp of weed,” the company did an admirable job in establishing its authority and reliability as a source of information while delivering value to its brands and advertisers, all within an incredibly confined and restricted marketing environment.
Toronto-based cultivators Flowr have become a major player in the global cannabis market, with the ad budget that comes with it. Take a moment to check out the “Art & Science” campaign, created to make cannabis flower look like asteroids, moon rocks—not to be confused with Moon Rocks—or some other alien specimen under study in a laboratory/film studio. The images and branding are unforgettable; this 30-second clip gives you a perfect taste for the company’s vibe.
An offering by Stanley Brothers—the creators of Charlotte’s Web, the high-CBD strain that changed the medical cannabis landscape nearly single-handedly—this campaign is an emotional powerhouse. Encapsulating many of the most powerful threads in the medical cannabis tapestry into one tight and exquisitely crafted package, it was honored by ADCANN as one of the best campaigns of 2020. You can see a clip here.
A joint venture, so to speak, from well-regarded Canadian producer Tweed in collaboration with ride-share pioneers Uber and longstanding nonprofit Mothers Against Drunk Driving, a potent lobbying group that’s campaigned for stricter enforcement of impaired-driving laws for over four decades. The “Don’t Drive High” effort was a response to Canada’s nationwide legalization of cannabis back in 2018. The campaign consisted of print ads, billboards, video ads and even a street kiosk with a “Call Uber” button so large, even “the highest human on earth” could press it. By any standard, the effort was a success: Some 10,000 cataclysmically high Canadians redeemed free Uber coupons to get a ride home instead of taking to the roads impaired.
Hit hard by the COVID-related retail slowdown, premium vape manufacturer PAX was in a bind. After consulting market research that indicated many Canadians were interested in giving the gift of cannabis for the holidays, the company hit upon a classic holiday-themed campaign that was homey, familiar, and cheeky all at once. In a year in which it seemed there was little to celebrate, PAX’s winning campaign brought a lot of happy smiles.
Combining retro-style fun, stoner humor, and an interactive twist, Canadian Cultivator Ace Valley created this hugely fun coloring book to celebrate 4/20 this year. Filled with coloring ideas for cannabis-impaired adults, it was sweet, weird, and cool all at the same time.
Another classic holiday-inspired campaign, this effort by Canadian adult-use cultivator Simply Bare offered cider recipes to pair with the company’s BC Organic Apple Toffee strain. With the recipes developed by The Nomad Cook (aka cannabis chef and educator Travis Petersen), it added a fun and interactive element to Simply Bare’s offerings. Speaking of which, you can sample the recipes—as well as the rest of the company’s superbly art-directed imagery—on its Instagram page.
Kiva: “The Secret to Kiva’s Chocolates”
We already called this spot out in our recent post on creative 420 campaigns, but this one deserves an encore. Created by LA-based film production company Biscuit Filmworks and featuring voice actor Jamie Hill, this 75-second video brought a whole new meaning to the phrase “high production values.” It also delivered a subtle tweak to many of the tamer mainstream takes on 4/20, including a bleeped-out F-bomb and an intriguingly subversive take on the classic product rollout spot.
“12 Days of Giveaways,” San Rafael ’71
Already ahead of the game when it comes to its tight, retro-style branding, San Rafael ’71—which, we should point out, is a Canadian enterprise—went all out for its 2020 holiday giveaway campaign. By lining up a top-level collection of swag—limited-run tie-dyed hoodies, candles inspired by specific strains, smell-proof bags, etc—and maximizing its reach through well-designed social media shares, the company grew their reach and gained countless fans.
“Story of Select Better,” Select Cannabis
We’ll go out with another high-profile example of how cannabis ads can tell a thoroughly compelling story about a brand without ever using the words “cannabis” or “marijuana.” Yes, this is a big-budget spot for a well-capitalized company. But the essential tools—creativity, dynamite filmmaking, and a strong whiff of humor—are yours for the taking.