It is no secret that many celebrities love consuming cannabis for a variety of reasons. Now that the plant is legal and regulated in so many states and the entire country of Canada, these famous influencers are beginning to cash in on the business side of cannabis. From musicians to famous athletes to movie stars, celebrities are publicly embracing the cannabis culture and the accompanying advertising dollars.
Celebrity endorsements are a popular and potentially effective advertising tactic used in a variety of different industries. This article will explore the relevant marketing regulations and best examples of celebrity cannabis brands and endorsements in the Canadian industry.
Canadian Cannabis Endorsement Regulations
The Cannabis Act states that “it is prohibited to promote cannabis by means of a testimonial or endorsement and by depiction of a person, character or animal, whether real or fictional”. Additionally, under Canada’s promotional rules, cannabis brands are not permitted to engage in any form of sponsorship of a famous celebrity, athlete or performer.
However, many Canadian licensed producers have found loopholes to compliantly launch cannabis brands backed in one way or another by celebrities. These loopholes include:
- Partnership and ownership: the majority of celebrity cannabis brands in Canada have been created as a business partnership between a big (usually publicly-traded) licensed producer and a celebrity. There is nothing in the regulations that specifically states that celebrities cannot create their own brands and companies or possess ownership stakes in cannabis companies. The first example of a celebrity endorsement in Canada was Snoop Dogg partnering with Tweed/Canopy Growth to launch Leafs By Snoop (now compliantly known as just “LBS”) in the medical market in October of 2016, two full years before the plant became legal for recreational use in the country.
- Cannabis product curation: Another form of partnership between celebrities and Canadian cannabis brands is product curation. Usually in addition to a business partnership, celebrities with recognized cannabis knowledge can help brands with phenotype and product selection, choosing items that will appeal to their fan base. This is the case for Wiz Khalifa’s partnership with The Supreme Cannabis Company along with Noah “40” Shebib’s arrangement with Robes Cannabis/MJardin.
Since the celebrities involved in these companies are heavily restricted in what they are able to communicate about their brands and products, it is questionable whether these partnerships produce a reasonable return on investment for either side. There is currently no data to support that celebrity brands have more awareness among consumers or that at they are beating non-celebrity cannabis brands in sales. These partnerships/endorsements may serve to generate some baseline awareness during a marketing launch, but these brands cannot sustain a loyal customer base without offering a consistent, quality product. It will be interesting to see how Canadian celebrity-backed cannabis brands perform and change over time.
Examples of Cannabis Celebrity Endorsements in Canada
Snoop Dogg & Leafs By Snoop/Canopy Growth
As mentioned before, the first and prime example of cannabis celebrity endorsements in Canada is Snoop Dogg’s partnership with Tweed/Canopy Growth to create Leafs By Snoop. Originally launched for medicinal patients only, the brand’s products are now available through recreational channels, although it has had to remove all imagery of the famed rapper from any consumer-facing promotional materials. The logo and branding for LBS was created by world’s largest independent design consultancy, Pentagram. Leafs By Snoop (LBS) flagship strains are Palm Tree CBD, Sunset and Moonbeam and are available as whole flower, pre-rolls and soft gels.
The brand does not have its own social media channels or website. It exists exclusively under the Canopy banner but doesn’t have a digital presence. Canopy has likely chosen (or been mandated) to down-play the existence of LBS due to the amount of publicity associated with the Snoop Dogg deal and the strict promotional regulations around celebrity endorsements.
Tweed won “Campaign Of The Year” at the 2019 ADCANN Awards for their “Don’t Drive High” collaboration with MADD and Uber.
Seth Rogen & Houseplant/Canopy Growth
In March of last year, Canadian-born actor, comedian, writer and producer Seth Rogen teamed up with Canopy Growth Corporation to launch a cannabis brand called Houseplant. This was seen as a natural brand extension by Seth Rogen’s fans, as many of them discovered the actor through his stoner comedy cult classic movie, Pineapple Express.
In contrast to LBS, Houseplant does have its own website and Instagram account and the brand seems to be much more fleshed out. Houseplant emphasizes that it is Canadian-born and all of its branding efforts are centred around the sativa, indica, hybrid distinction. This makes Houseplant’s products easily understandable and approachable for the novice consumer, but may prove to be detrimental for the brand in the future as newly revealed science continues to diminish the importance of the difference between “sativa” and “indica”.
Houseplant’s visual aesthetic and marketing copy is all a throwback to 1970’s/1980’s-era nostalgia. Much of the branding, the colour palette and their packaging is reminiscent of a VHS movie cover. The brand has produced a series of basic cannabis 101 informative videos that are inspired by old infomercials. In line with the 70’s theme, the brand has also created three strain specific “LPs” records – the sativa record featuring upbeat music, the indica record playing relaxed tunes and the hybrid one is “right in between”. These records were given away to lucky consumers that were randomly chosen through social media and through Houseplant’s email newsletter. Houseplant has over 205,000 followers on Instagram, making it the Canadian cannabis brand with the largest social media presence.
Drake & More Life/Canopy Growth
In November of 2019, Canopy Growth officially announced that they had partnered with Aubrey “Drake” Graham to establish the More Life Growth Company, a licensed producer of cannabis based in the artist’s hometown of Toronto, Ontario. The company is reportedly “centred around wellness, discovery and overall personal growth with the hope of facilitating connections and shared experiences across the globe”.
More Life products have not yet launched. The brand currently has a private Instagram account with the message “coming soon” in the bio. Although nothing is for sale quite yet, the brand has already racked up more than 18,000 followers on the platform at the time of publishing. The only person that More Life follows on Instagram is Drake, also known as “champagnepapi”.
Drake is one of the most influential artists and personalities in Canada and Canopy Growth is one of the world’s largest cannabis companies. It will be interesting to monitor the success of this brand once it launches.
The Tragically Hip & Up Cannabis/Newstrike Brands
Back in May of 2017, more than a year before cannabis would be recreationally legalized in the country, Canadian musical icons The Tragically Hip partnered with medical marijuana start-up Newstrike Brands (which has since been acquired by HEXO).
Newstrike’s recreational brand, Up Cannabis, is inspired heavily by The Tragically Hip. UP has partnered with popular cannabis retail franchise Spiritleaf to create “UP lounges” in several of their stores across Canada. These “experiential hubs” feature a lot of The Tragically Hip imagery including unique paintings of Gord Downie and guitars autographed by the band. Since these hubs are inside of age-gated point of sales, the UP brand has a bit more freedom to speak about their celebrity ties.
All five of UP’s flagship strains have been named after famous The Tragically Hip songs. The song “Grace, Too” inspired the strain Grace, and “Fifty Mission Cap” led to 50kush. “Moon” and Eldo originated from song titles off of the “We Are the Same” and “Fully Completely” albums. The sativa-dominant Gems cultivar was named after the song “The Last of the Unplucked Gems.” The Tragically Hip lyrics inspire much of the brand’s social media content as well.
Wiz Khalifa and KKE/The Supreme Cannabis Company
In December of 2018, The Supreme Cannabis Company announced an international partnership with Khalifa Kush Enterprises, which is a company founded and owned by famous musician and cannabis connoisseur Wiz Khalifa. Supreme Cannabis has exclusive rights to the Khalifa Kush brand name and entity in Canada and in international markets. The brand in Canada is referred to as KKE (Khalifa Kush Enterprises).
Wiz Khalifa and the KKE team were chosen because of their expertise and knowledge about cannabis products and consumers. Wiz acts as a subject matter expert and cannabis connoisseur and works with with Supreme Cannabis team to choose, formulate and launch products in the Canadian market.
The company launched their first product, KKE Oils, in June of last year. Using the high-end strains Sensi Star and Jean Guy from 7ACRES (The Supreme Cannabis Company’s flaship brand), these high-THC oils with re-introduced terpenes were developed for the consumer who wants the convenience, potency and precise dosing offered by a oil.
The Supreme Cannabis Company plans to launch further products under the KKE brand name. Canadians are patiently awaiting the day that they can purchase the famed “Khalifa Kush” strain up north.
The Trailer Park Boys & Trailer Park Buds/Organigram
Back in 2016, Moncton-based Organigram announced a partnership with TPB Productions, a company owned by the real-life actors who play Ricky, Julian, and Bubbles, also known as the “Trailer Park Boys”. This partnership outlined that Organigram would “develop branding, packaging, and a competitive product portfolio targeted towards recreational marijuana consumers”. This new brand was to be named “Trailer Park Buds”. The show “Trailer Park Boys” is a cult classic among many Canadians and many of the episodes focus largely on cannabis-related subject matter.
Four years later, the brand, which has promised to produce strains including Super Bling Cowboy, Swayze Sativa and Itodasco Indica, is still not available for Canadians to purchase.
Ray Gracewood, the senior vice-president of marketing and communications at Organigram told The Growth Op “We’re continuing to monitor the market and have been evaluating the opportunity with Trailer Park Buds for Canada, we’re focused on how to best leverage the opportunity in a compliant, strategic way that makes the most sense for both groups and this is a process that takes time.” However, there is still no solid timeline for consumers to expect Trailer Park Buds products on the shelves of their local cannabis stores.
Noah “40” Shebib & BLLRDR/Robes Cannabis/MJardin
Noah Shebib, AKA “40”, is a founding member of OVO Sound record label and is the producer behind all of Drake’s albums.
The “BLLRDR” brand is shrouded in mystery and many details are still scarce to the general public. However, the brand’s social media pages have started to gain a considerable following, featuring images of Shebib and famous OVO-affiliated rappers like Baka Not Nice smoking joints.
BLLRDR is a cut of Afghani Bullrider, a strain popularized on the informal market by legendary Canadian grower Jeff Tek. BLLRDR is the only strain that Noah Shebib will smoke. Noah claims that Bullrider is the only strain of cannabis that helps him properly mitigate the symptoms of his multiple sclerosis (MS). He now wants to bring that gift to the world.
BLLRDR is a brand that is still being formulated by Robes Cannabis, a premium-focused brand house founded by cannabis entrepreneur Maxim Zavet, who also founded Emblem Cannabis. Robes Cannabis has partnered with MJardin (who has their cultivation license) to cultivate and distribute Robes Cannabis and BLLRDR branded cannabis. Updates coming soon.
The effectiveness of celebrity endorsements and celebrity-backed brands in the cannabis space is yet to be seen. By analyzing long-term cannabis sales data we will be able to come to a conclusion about the utility of these partnerships. Stay tuned to ADCANN for future analysis and commentary.
Celebrity endorsements and influencer marketing are two different strategies. Read our article about influencer marketing in the cannabis industry to understand how they differ.