The Marketing of Mary Jane

Filed Under: Best Practices, Market Research


Kayla Myhre

Director, Shopper Insights Research

As you may or may not know, April 20th—otherwise known as 420 – is often recognized as an unofficial holiday for marijuana (a.k.a. cannabis). At the start of 2020, Illinois became the 11th state to legalize recreational marijuana, with many others expected to follow closely behind. Now, in many of these states, decreased regulations are opening up doors for new business and products geared towards the 420-celebrators. 

Last year alone, several brands released special promotions for those celebrating the day. Ben & Jerry’s paired up with a San Francisco cannabis retailer to give customers free ice cream, Carl’s Jr. offered a limited-time CBD burger at a location in Denver, and Lyft offered discounts of up to $4.20 in various cities. Going forward, we may see even more brands following suit and jumping on the 420 marketing train.

Still, there’s a difference between brands offering 420-related promotions and promoting a 420-friendly product. There’s a fine line and a long list of rules when it comes to researching and marketing cannabis products. 

When a company wants to research a new cannabis product, options are very limited compared to non-cannabis products. This means companies need to get creative with their research methods, finding a balance between meaningful insights and complying with the many regulations. Some research methods that companies have begun to leverage include:

  • Expert Product Testers – A cannabis company based out of New York hired an expert consumer to test their products. This product tester gets paid to try samples and review various products, like an in-home user test but with a stricter set of screening requirements.
  • Focus Groups – Through C+R’s first-hand experience with focus groups with cannabis products, our operations teams have learned to navigate the unique methodologies necessary to execute the successful focus group. Considerations such as manufacturer location, designated drivers, dosages, participant tolerances, and more are taken into account when planning to ensure participant safety and valuable insights.

Once the product is tested and ready to go to market, companies still face roadblocks when it comes to marketing and advertising. In fact, nearly 60% of traditional advertising channels are not available to them, including TV, Google, and social media ads. Again, this means companies need to be more resourceful and creative in how they reach new customers. 

  • Cannabis Advertising Agencies – Some companies hire cannabis-specific advertising agencies, relying on their expert knowledge of how to promote the product. Many of these agencies often focus on improving brand image and leveraging tactics such as Search Engine Optimization (SEO) and building social media followings to advertise.  
  • Cannabis Influencers – Despite not being able to use paid social media ads, companies can pay social media influencers to promote their brand and products. Some of the more high-profile influencers even have upwards of hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of dedicated followers.
  • Word of Mouth – Most companies continue to rely either partially or entirely on the oldest form of advertising—word of mouth—to boost their brand. With no regulations on word-of-mouth promotions between friends, family, co-workers, neighbors, or otherwise, it is still a useful low-tech approach. 

Yet, despite the restrictive laws, regulations, and limitations surrounding the cannabis industry, an increasing number of companies are leaping into the cannabis market. By leveraging creative and insightful market research methods—like those used at C+R—and advertising tactics, cannabis companies are reaching their consumers more meaningfully and effectively than ever.  


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