The Current Landscape
July 2018 has been on the radar of individuals, government, business owners, and more – and not simply because it marks the start of summer. If you’re reading this article, you are well aware that the Government of Canada set July 2018 as the date that cannabis would become legal for recreational use and retail sales would begin. Although this date was pushed back, senators have voted to pass Bill C-45, which legalizes recreational cannabis in Canada, by a vote of 52-29.
Recreational cannabis is set to be legal for consumption on October 17, 2018 and many companies are poised to join this new market.
Rules & Regulations
Medical cannabis has been legal in Canada since 2001 and there are currently over 100 authorized licensed producers. Advertising restrictions for medical cannabis are strict – to say the least – and players in the recreational cannabis industry will also be required to abide by heavy rules and regulations. We have taken the liberty of outlining a few of these rules and regulations, as they currently stand, for you below.
The Cannabis Act
Bill C-45, better known as The Cannabis Act, was introduced into the House of Commons on April 13, 2017 and passed on June 19, 2018. Senators made more than four dozen amendments to Bill C-45, with government accepting all but 13 to date.
The Cannabis Act has identified several key advertising restrictions, which include the prohibition to promote cannabis:
(a) by communicating information about its price or distribution;
(b) by doing so in a manner that there are reasonable grounds to believe could be appealing to young persons;
(c) by means of a testimonial or endorsement, however displayed or communicated;
(d) by means of the depiction of a person, character or animal, whether real or fictional; or
(e) by presenting it or any of its brand elements in a manner that associates it or the brand element with, or evokes a positive or negative emotion about or image of, a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.
A person, or company, that is authorized to produce, sell, or distribute cannabis may promote cannabis if the promotion is:
(a) in a communication that is addressed and sent to an individual who is 18 years of age or older and is identified by name;
(b) in a place where young persons are not permitted by law;
(c) communicated by means of a telecommunication, where the person responsible for the content of the promotion has taken reasonable steps to ensure that the promotion cannot be accessed by a young person;
(d) in a prescribed place; or
(e) done in a prescribed manner.
Amendments that Impact Advertising
Bill C-45 allows a company to design and distribute promotional products that feature their branding and logo. Senator Judith Seidman put forth an amendment that would prohibit this stating, “Bill C-45 contains an exception allowing for companies to distribute promotional products with their brand logo, with vague prohibitions on products that ‘could be appealing to young people.’ Nevertheless, we are already seeing a proliferation of these products, with marijuana company logos emblazoned on t-shirts, backpacks, and iPhone cases. To think that these products won’t develop a cachet among teenagers is delusional.”
Many players in the recreational cannabis industry expressed their concerns with this amendment, as it would make it difficult for legal cannabis producers to compete with the black market and to differentiate their brands. This amendment was rejected by the government.
Packaging Proposed by Health Canada
In succession with the rules and regulations outlined above, The Canadian Government has placed restrictions on the color of packaging and the depiction of branding, while requiring mandatory warning labels and banning packaging designed to appeal to young people.
Here are examples of the proposed packaging released by Health Canada earlier this year:
Since the passing of the Cannabis Act, Health Canada has released Cannabis Act Regulations that are even more stringent. The latest restrictions on packaging include:
- Packaging cannot have branding or images on the exterior or interior.
- The colour of the container that a cannabis product is packaged in must be one uniform colour.
- There cannot be any hidden features design to change appearance or surface area.
- Packaging cannot emit a scent or sound.
- Packaging cannot include a cut-out window.
- The covering of the container that holds the cannabis product must be transparent and colourless.
Although these rules and regulations have likely caused many companies to rethink their marketing strategies, they certainly haven’t stopped them from getting creative!
What Companies Are Currently Doing
From promoting celebrity investors to pre-releasing (cannabis-free) cannabis products, many players in the cannabis industry are already getting the word out about their recreational products. Here is a high-level overview of what some Canadian companies are doing to reach prospective consumers.
MedReleaf, Canada's first and only ISO 9001 and ICH-GMP certified cannabis producer, introduced an adult-use recreational cannabis brand – San Rafael ’71 – in early February, 2018. To introduce the brand, they partnered with Amsterdam Brewing to launch San Rafael ’71 4:20 Pale Ale, which does not yet contain any cannabis, but ‘celebrates the spirit of the classic cannabis culture.’ San Rafael ’71 has a dedicated website and social media profiles.
Instagram posts made by @sanrafael71.
MedReleaf has also released a premium recreational cannabis brand, AltaVie, that is focused on mindfulness. AltaVie is already selling high-end cannabis-flavoured chocolate-covered toffee all over Canada to introduce consumers to their product.
Vancouver-based cannabis company, Invictus MD, states on their website that they are prepared to meet the exploding demand for recreational use, once cannabis is legalized. In March, 2018 Invictus announced that they appointed KISS’ Gene Simmons as their Chief Evangelist Officer. While Simmons does not endorse specific strains or products, his involvement has sparked the early interest of media and consumers.
Similarly, Canopy Growth Corporation’s subsidiary company, Tweed, established a high-profile partnership with “Smoke Weed Everyday” rapper, Snoop Dogg, in 2016 with their Presdient, Mark Zekulin, stating “We’re welcoming a cannabis culture icon into the Canadian industry.” Securing a partnership with Snoop Dogg was only one step in gaining media attention, which Bruce Linton, CEO of Canopy Growth Corp., believes is the key to gaining recognition in the recreational cannabis market. He states that occupying the Hershey’s factory in Ontario was also a key move for Tweed.
National Access Cannabis
In early May 2018, National Access Cannabis introduced their new innovative and premium recreational brand, Meta. Meta cannabis dispensaries will initially open across Western Canada – potentially in Second Cup coffee stores, as Second Cup has signed a strategic alliance with National Access Cannabis. Meta already has a website, and dedicated social media profiles created.
A rendering of what a Meta dispensary could look like.
The award-winning Canadian medical cannabis company, Hydropothecary, has also recently launched a recreational cannabis brand – HEXO – that encourages users to ‘Stay curious. Explore more.’ HEXO has social media channels and a dedicated landing page to help promote their brand.
Aphira Inc. has launched Solei, a brand that encourages individuals to #FindYourLight. Solei has a website and active Facebook page. On Canada Day, Solei shared the following message on their Facebook page: “Today we’re celebrating red and the great things ahead. We can’t wait to meet you on October 17th. #CanadaDay #MeetSolei”.
How Can You Reach Your Target Audience?
While it’s true that your recreational cannabis company cannot rely on event sponsorships, billboard advertisements, television commercials, or eccentric packaging to promote its brand and products, there are several steps you can take to help reach your target audience.
Recreational Cannabis Branding
Strong brands have a higher perceived quality, elicit a greater retention of messages, and gain more favourable reactions to price increases or decreases. Strong brands are associated with credibility, quality, and satisfaction – and typically receive increased customer loyalty and profits.
We had the pleasure of creating a unique brand identity for Robinson’s Cannabis. Check it out!
When creating your brand, it is important to define your target audience, choose your voice, and properly project your identity. You can learn more about creating a strong brand for your cannabis company here.
Online Digital Presence
A key component to your digital presence is a responsive website. Your website is a great platform to showcase your brand – are you trendy? Focused on well-being? Cutting-edge? When a user lands on your website, they should get a sense of who you are, and why they should purchase your product. Consumers will be seeking websites that are easy to navigate with product information that includes the strains and variety of products available for purchase.
We designed a custom website to provide Workplace Cannabis Consulting’s target market with easy-to-access information – learn more here!
Social Media for Recreational Cannabis Companies
Social media is a powerful tool that allows your recreational cannabis company to connect with prospective and current customers with the tap of a finger. In an age where everyone is digitally connected, a strong social media presence helps to keep your product top-of-mind. Social media allows you to create a community, share valuable information, and of course – promote your products.
As you are likely aware, cannabis companies are prohibited from paid advertising on social media platforms such as Facebook and Instagram. Many companies are increasingly turning to social media influencers (who typically have large organic followings and receive high engagement) to help promote their brand.
Other advertising tactics, including e-newsletter campaigns or grand opening events, are sure to help you grow your following as well.
How effective is your cannabis company’s brand? Are you reaching the right audiences? How do you stack up against competitors? Whether you are new to the industry or are growing your existing cannabis business, being prepared and getting ahead of your competition is the key to success. A free consultation from our marketing experts will help you determine if you're heading in the right direction, or - if you are a new company - get tips on where to start.