This week’s Trailblazer is Peter Reitano, Co-Founder of Abacus Agency and High 12 Brands, a builder of brands and creator of campaigns for cannabis companies.
Questions with a Cannabis Industry Trailblazer
When did you first become involved in the cannabis industry and why?
It was around 2016. I just launched my agency (Abacus) which we built to help brands scale using advanced Facebook advertising. I think about week 2 we started to work with Tokyo Smoke, who at that time were just a single coffee shop looking to build an audience. From there we worked with at least 30 companies in the space, including WeedMD, Aphria, Aurora, Trec Brands. Then in 2018 we ended up founding our own Cannabis product company; High12 Brands.
What has been the biggest challenge you have faced when working with cannabis companies/brands?
I’d say it revolves around platform and content restrictions. What’s funny is one of our first clients we couldn’t actually do what we built the agency to do (run ads on Facebook) because of the platform restrictions. So we had to get very creative and work out a load of hacks. We started to land some other clients in the space, some large LPs, and from that, we built a playbook on how to build brands in a compliant way, as well as scale them through novel advertising techniques that don’t involve the standard DTC tactics.
We’ve done some interesting campaigns to get around the restrictions on “showing lifestyle”, for example, this campaign we built for Blissed.
We’ve had numerous IG accounts shut down, but thankfully we have a very good relationship with Facebook because we spend a lot with them via our “normal clients”. So we’ve always been able to get them back up.
If you could change one of the current Canadian or American marketing restrictions on cannabis, which would it be?
I’d love to have packaging in Canada like they have in the US. Given most consumers encounters brands in store, it’s such a wasted brand-building opportunity. And frankly, it makes the consumer experience all the more worse.
What frustrates me is that even though Canada is the first industrialized country to green-light recreational cannabis, we’ve failed to build the “coca colas of cannabis” – recognizable brands that have global export potential. And that’s largely due to advertising restrictions. I think it’s safe to say that at this point we’ve failed to take advantage of our lead on the world stage, and now the US brand machine is coming online with federal legalization in sight.
In your observation, what marketing techniques or channels have been most effective for cannabis companies looking to connect with consumers?
Building relationships with budtenders, in-store advertising and platforms like Snapchat have been very successful for us. We recently ran this campaign for Color, leveraging Snapchat.
Are there any other Trailblazers in the cannabis industry that you follow?
There can be only one……The Linkedin Bacardi guy.
What is one tip or piece of advice you would give to people looking to enter the cannabis industry?
Marketing is already a fast-evolving discipline, with new platforms, updates, tactics almost daily. Add to that the ever-changing regulations and platforms that arbitrarily apply their rules, it’s a lot to stay on top of. It’s a fun challenge. But at its core, this is really still a CPG game and the fundamentals matter most; who is the customer, what do they want, what are the features and benefits they’ll need in a product, how do we articulate that in a brand and how to we reach them?
A big thank you to Peter 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.