Cannabis is big business in the US. At the end of 2018, 32 States allowed the use of the plant for medical use, while 16 States permit cannabidol (CBD), a cannabis compound without the psychoactivity of THC. According to Cannabis Business Plan, the US legal pot market totalled $10.4 billion dollars - and it shows zero sign of slowing down. Forecasters predict that number could rise by more than double to $24.5 billion by 2021 and to $47.3 billion dollars six years after that. One of the biggest and most prominent companies in the cannabis industry is MedMen. Its purchase of medical weed firm PharmaCann for $682 million in October 2018 was one of the biggest purchases in the history of the industry. That purchase reportedly means that MedMen has access to 79 retail and farming licences across 12 US States. Its stores line some of the country's most lucrative and coolest shopping streets, such as Venice Beach's Abbot Kinney Boulevard, the Las Vegas Strip and New York's Fifth Avenue. MedMen paid $26 million for the licence to open the New York store - which Business Insider likened to an Apple store - with an eye on the future. Recreational use is not yet legal in New York State, but MedMen "built that store for the future", the company's chief executive officer Adam Bierman told Bloomberg.
And with big business naturally comes an importance for advertising, and MedMen has focused its recent efforts on de-stigmatising the use of the plant it aims to sell. It recently launched 'The New Normal', a provocative short film helmed by famed director Spike Jonze. Created with US agency Mekanism - along with writing help from Jonze and Grey's Anatomy start Jesse Williams - the film chronicles the history of cannabis in America, beginning with George Washington tending to his own hemp farm, before transitioning through diorama-like scenes of prohibition and racial injustice. It ends with a man welcoming his partner home as she carries a MedMen shopping bag.
Jonze described working on the campaign as "healing"). To find out more about the strategic thinking behind the campaign and marketing for such a business in general, LBB's Addison Capper picked the brains of David Dancer, MedMen's chief marketing officer.
LBB> Tell us about 'The New Normal' - what are your main aims and ambitions with the campaign?
David> The commercial chronicles society’s evolving perceptions of the plant, from pre-prohibition to the modern industry of today. We’re miles away from the ‘Reefer Madness’ epidemic, but there are issues such as criminalisation and racial stigmatisation that are very real and can’t be overstated.
Our past campaigns have highlighted the diverse uses of cannabis and the many faces of modern cannabis use, but we wanted to take this to another level and address the social, political, and economical aspects of cannabis. We leveraged digital channels as well as 80+ OOH assets to make this our largest integrated marketing campaign yet.
LBB> What kind of research and strategic think went into the development of the campaign?
David> This was our fourth major campaign and we’ve evolved from just telling people ‘It’s Legal’. Every next step has helped tell our story in mainstreaming marijuana. It was also our opportunity to make a statement and tell the complicated history of cannabis in our country.
LBB> The newest film of the campaign is quite loaded in its approach, highlighting cannabis' turbulent relationship with the law - why did you decide on taking a stance like this?
David> The New Normal aims to rewrite the history of cannabis accurately, exposing the injustices that minority populations have endured in order to allow cannabis to become more mainstream.
This story and our platform provides an opportunity to educate those who aren’t aware of the racially and economically-charged history of cannabis in our country. It’s a rallying cry to current and future customers and cannabis lovers for us to say, ‘Look how far we’ve come’, but also make people aware that we haven’t arrived here overnight.
LBB> Would you say the film is political? If so, why?
David> We don’t see the short as overtly political in itself, though there are absolutely political undertones tied to the aim of legalisation.
Our goal is not to tell people what to believe, but to make people realise the harsh reality that our country has collectively allowed to go on for so long. We aren’t pushing propaganda at consumers to drive sales. We’re allowing the history of cannabis to come to the forefront and we are conveying an idea - that’s the ‘selling’ point, getting our culture to realise that cannabis should not be criminalised when it’s truly adding value to our society.
LBB> Why did you enlist Spike Jonze to direct it? And why do you think he was keen to be involved?
David> Spike Jonze’s talent for communicating a brand message or idea in commercial film is really important, and we knew he was the ideal person to share our message.
Spike, along with the majority of the extended team who worked on this campaign, has personal ties to cannabis. It was crucial to us that the team behind The New Normal supported and aligned with the idea of mainstreaming marijuana.
LBB> Do you see MedMen as a lifestyle brand or a pharma brand? And how does that influence your strategy to marketing?
David> We see MedMen as a lifestyle brand that speaks to health, wellness and enjoyment. We see cannabis use as a highly personal, individual experience, and our main goal from a brand standpoint is to bring marijuana to the mainstream public and de-stigmatise preconceived notions surrounding its use. Our diverse yet curated product selection — including our own proprietary line — serves a spectrum of consumers who turn to cannabis for a multitude of reasons.
Our marketing strategy encompasses disruptive, large-scale campaigns which challenge ideas of what it means to use cannabis, dispel stereotypes, and reiterate that there is no ‘typical’ consumer.
LBB> Given differing regulations around cannabis in different states, and its newfound legality in others, are there any particular / big regulations around the advertising that you can do for MedMen?
David> MedMen has always sought unique avenues to push back against institutionalised hurdles - from large-scale out-of-home campaigns touting the word ‘cannabis’ to advertising on fruit trucks. We’ve earned a reputation for creating disruptive campaigns that spark dialogue surrounding the cultural implications and de-stigmatisation of cannabis use.
Our New Normal campaign was ultimately not approved to run on television networks, even in states where recreational use is legal, due to FCC regulations.
One way we’re working around these regulations is by utilising connected TV networks (including Bravo, CBS Sports Network, Oxygen, MSNBC, Lifetime and Food Network) and print ads (including national ad placements in Rolling Stone and US Weekly). Our brand is constantly pushing boundaries because we feel our message of mainstreaming marijuana should live everywhere.