Do You Become an Advertising Agency for Cannabis?
The moral dilemma of becoming a Marketing Agency for Marijuana.
As we enter the advertising world of 2020 we see small to large changes in the way we do business. This is in part to the ever-evolving way marketing companies keep up with technology and trends, and the other side of this is related to the clients themselves.
New products pop up, old products fade away. Starts-up start, dinosaurs die off. Trends trend and we try to jump on that trend train. But what happens when your conscience gets in the way? It’s never smart to publicly take political sides. Do your best to leave religion out of advertising. For God-sake, make sure your product spokesman doesn’t have a billion skeletons in their closest. These are all easy rules to follow. So what happens when you’re approached by a new client who may put-off 50% of your audience? Welcome to the world of legal cannabis.
Currently Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 substance at the federal level. Marijuana is legal in 11 states for adults over the age of 21, and legal for medical use in 33 states. Every day another state is doing its best to add itself to that list. With that comes the influx of dispensaries. And with that, comes new businesses that needs marketing. We’re all marketers, so we’re going to get the call.
So pop quiz, hot shot. When that new dispensary down the street walks in your office needing marketing assistance, what do you do?
Before digging in the the moral aspects of this. Let’s talk about the legality. State regulators determine laws regarding cannabis advertising. However, most states have not set up these laws. Since states can’t keep up with the rate of legalization, some of these laws could be years away before being put in place.
There’s also the geographical restrictions. Since marijuana is banned at the federal level, that hinders any national advertising. An example would be placing an ad in a magazine that is distributed anywhere in Colorado, but if it also had distribution across state lines, it would be unlawful. This would work for Television commercials or anything else that targets an audience outside of the state. There’s no room for error here. You’d need to go over the design of your campaign with a fine-toothed comb to avoid legal action.
But then placing media might have a bigger problem. TV stations, websites, magazines, newspapers and billboard vendors can decide whether they want to accept cannabis advertising dollars. They often have the same moral dilemmas you might have. It’s easy to scream “free speech” and hope they’d see your side. But legally they don’t have to.
States like Colorado, California, and New York have restrictions in place. But most states don’t. So what happens when you think outside the box in your location, only to have a law pop-up months later that kills your campaign? It’s a risk everyone will be taking. Do you want to take it too?
So now back to your moral compass. This isn’t a question about whether you smoke it or not. We all promote brands we don’t actually use. But you might not lose a client because you’re promoting a different brand of shampoo than they buy. You’d be promoting a product that other clients, or your audience truly detest.
Do you risk losing that conservative-leaning client unwilling to see another side of the argument after you sign a fast-growing dispensary? And if you are going to lose them, is that the dinosaur I talked about earlier? Legal cannabis isn’t going anywhere. It’s only going to gain in popularity and sales. As the market grows, so do their budgets. Someone is going to get that money, why not you? And if you have a client who looks down on you for taking it, in time they’ll have to adapt or die as well.
It’s easy to think you’re nondiscriminatory by nature and you’d bring any client in with open-arms. But not everyone you work with/for is. If you haven’t had this conversation with yourself or your company yet, you will. So when you do:
- Research your state laws concerning cannabis (if any)
- Discover if your agency or agency individuals have any moral obligations.
- Look through your client list and try to pin-point any conflicts that might arise.
- Smoke up, get really high and take them in with open arms. Because they are coming with pockets full of cash and how great would it be to create campaigns about getting stoned?
I mean, creating the logos alone for this is going to make your week. And the taglines? Sign me up.