Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
You could say that we founded our agency, Zerotrillion, because of cannabis. But perhaps not in the way you’d assume.
When my business partner, Alex Paquin, and I started Zerotrillion, we had each spent a decade or so in advertising, selling everything from frozen pizzas to Swedish flat-packs. So when it came time to open our own shop, we could have slipped back into the well-trodden trails of our marketing experience. But we didn’t. Instead, we made a simply-stated promise: we were going to be part of the big ideas of our time.
Among those ideas – and personally speaking, of chief importance – is legalised cannabis. I believe that the legalisation and growing social acceptance of cannabis is one of the most important culture shifts of our time. Already, yet incompletely, it has led to righting the wrongs of past criminalisation, increased empathy for self-medication, and opening the door gradually for the therapeutic use of psychotropics beyond cannabis. It’s quite amazing – and we are still very much in early days.
Two years ago, we connected with Flowr. Seeing their passion and commitment to craft, we started a partnership that is still one of our strongest client relationships today. As their lead agency for creative, PR and often media, we have helped establish their recreational brand as a premier offering in the Canadian market. We’re incredibly proud of the recognition Flowr and our work continues to receive – by cannabis consumers, marketers and the juries of the world’s most prestigious award shows.
What has been the biggest marketing challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
Without a doubt, the biggest challenge is knowing just how consequential every piece of work can be. Unlike other industries, a single cannabis campaign has the power to progress societal sentiment about cannabis or set it back years. Each of us who works in cannabis is a steward of its progress, and that’s a responsibility we at Zerotrillion take very seriously.
There is a balance we all need to strike between effectively marketing a particular brand’s products and not forgetting that the ripples of our work in cannabis turn to waves that can lift or thrash the societal progress that we should all stand for.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
Cannabis regulations should always be evidence-based legislation. So while I have hunches about the current and proposed rules, I wouldn’t change a single one. Instead, what I would ask is that all regulation is supported by publicly disclosed evidence. Let the evidence guide all of us. Just as I wouldn’t want my hunches, stereotypes and assumptions about cannabis to write law, I certainly wouldn’t want those lawmakers to have such power.
To my fellow marketers and creatives in cannabis, I would just ask that we focus less on the constraints and restrictions and instead look to them for inspiration. There is no creativity without constraint, and well-intended regulation is absolutely a powerful muse.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
Because of tight regulations, many brands rely heavily on “owned channels”, like their Instagram page or website. They fall back on those because of their desire to control the conversation in an environment they hold the keys to. But the reality is they aren’t having a conversation at all. Those broadcasting channels have a place in the industry for sure, but I believe that the brands that will succeed are those that participate in culture directly. An example:
Our latest campaign for Flowr, “Nothing to Hide”, featured a film that showed the all-too-familiar hiding places we used to stash cannabis. The takeaway? That it’s time to leave the hiding in the past. The film is an ad for Flowr, sure, but it’s more than that; it’s a powerful sentiment that’s echoed by every budtender we speak to and nearly every customer we hear from. So it’s no wonder that we, on multiple occasions, heard our film being played by budtenders on their phones to customers in dispensaries.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
Fifty-one years. That’s how long Keith Stroup has been fighting to reform cannabis laws. We all owe him and everyone who has ever lent a hand at NORML our gratitude. Every day it is becoming easier and more acceptable to voice your support for cannabis reform. We should never forget those voices who chose to speak up even when they were speaking alone.
Bringing our timeline 50 years into the present, I should mention Michael Kauffman. As director and creator of the cannabis program for the Clio Awards, he is playing an important role in helping our industry progress. As cynical as we can all be about advertising, I do believe our work plays a crucial role in shaping culture. Having cannabis marketing recognised at major festivals shines a light on the industry and encourages more agencies and brands to put their creativity to work for cannabis.
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to people looking to enter the cannabis industry?
Work with people for whom cannabis is personal. In the space, there are countless brands and companies, many of whom view cannabis solely as a financial opportunity. While I wish those folks luck, it’s because I know they’re certainly going to need it. Tomorrow’s winners in cannabis will be those who care.
A big thank you to Adam for participating as this week’s Trailblazer! Stay tuned for another interview with a cannabis marketing Trailblazer next Thursday in the ADCANN blog.
Interested in working with one of these talented cannabis marketers? Check out our Agency Directory for a list of all the agencies that specialize in working with cannabis companies.