PR Industry Trends

The Legal Grass is Always Greener

Look, 2016 was a weird year. And, as if the universe wanted to prolong our agony, it was actually 1 second longer than usual. From Brexit to clowns lurking in the woods (okay, seriously though guys, what was that?) to bruising campaigns for presidential candidates, it was a tumultuous one.

However, there were a few bright spots. For many, one of those bright spots came in the form of cannabis. 2016 was a landmark year for marijuana, when nine states voted on measures to legalize marijuana (five for recreational, four for medical). Eight of them passed.

According to TIME, “more than half of the states in the U.S. now have comprehensive medical marijuana laws and roughly one fifth of the population lives in a place where adults 21 and older can legally consume weed for fun.”

Now, almost a year after the measures passed and the chaos of 2016 is a distant memory, I decided to ruminate on how the entrance of cannabis into the mainstream is affecting brand and consumer culture.

Brands have to be marketing ninjas 

Now that cannabis products can be sold legally in some states, brands are traversing unchartered territory. Marketing a product that’s legal at the state level but still illegal federally poses an Everest of obstacles. According to Contently, while broadcasters are technically allowed to run cannabis advertisements in states that legalized marijuana, they choose not to because doing so could potentially endanger their FCC license. Broadcasting cannabis ads would mean violating Section 843 of the Controlled Substances Act, which prohibits “communications facilities” from advertising Schedule I drugs.

It seems likely that marketers would then turn to social media, the darling of advertising in the progressive modern age. However, they run into the same obstacles. According to the Boston Globe, Facebook bans content that promotes marijuana use. This ban even applies to geo-targeted advertisements.

So, as a result, brands need to be ninjas. Without the benefit of advertising or reaching people via social media, they run the risk of only talking to themselves and their existing customer base. According to Contently, SEO, word of mouth, and product ambassadors are just a few of the ways marketers are circumventing roadblocks.

Industries are clashing

The war of the recreational substances has commenced. With the legalization of marijuana and explosion of cannabis products on the market, the alcohol industry is understandably concerned. CannaBiz Consumer Group (C2G), which studies the impact of cannabis legalization on consumer spending throughout the economy, reported that if cannabis were legalized nationally, the beer industry would lose more than $2 billion in retail sales. According to Forbes, a growing number of cannabis cocktails are now available, further carving out a niche in the market that no beer company can touch. And, according to Goldman Sachs (via CNBC), ” alcohol could be under pressure for the next decade, based on [our] data analysis covering 80 years of alcohol and 35 years of cannabis incidence in the US.”

Seeing how these substances coexist in our culture, especially if the trend continues and more states legalize marijuana for recreational use, will be interesting. Will the novelty of legalized marijuana fade for consumers, sparking a return to booze?

Within the next few years, it will be worth keeping an eye on how the legalization of marijuana is impacting not just consumers, but alcohol industry giants who have, until 2016, only been competing with the devil they know.

About Laura Schultz:

Laura is an Account Executive in Padilla’s New York office. She has a worked on a variety of business-to-business and business-to-consumer clients, including Coppertone, IDA Ireland, Georges Duboeuf Wines, Barnes & Noble College Marketing, and Enterprise Ireland. Laura provides critical account support in day-to-day public relations through media outreach, strategic content development, and event coordination.

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