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For Rebecca Brown, the light-bulb moment came with a guerrilla tactic: when she was at the ad agency Entrinsic four years ago, her colleagues drummed up an idea to promote their services to the medical cannabis firms in Ontario. They headed out to those rural facilities and projected images on the walls of those buildings, promoting what Entrinsic could do for cannabis firms.

“It didn’t work, it was too early for those companies to think about branding,” says Brown in an interview from her Toronto office.1 But it jumpstarted the idea to learn more about cannabis, so much so Brown launched her agency earlier this year catering to the Canadian cannabis community.

Crowns Creative2 seeks to capitalize on the rising interest among cannabis producers, retailers and peripheral firms hungry to set themselves apart from the competition. At seven clients currently, the Crowns team “spends 24/7 thinking of how to open up new opportunities for clients and operate with regulatory constraints.”

Those restrictions come up often in our conversation, due to the many rules circling cannabis marketing in Canada. For example, in Quebec no promotional materials extolling cannabis or even its lifestyle can be sold. And on social media, Facebook doesn’t allow Facebook Ads from any cannabis company, even in a country such as Canada where recreational cannabis is legalized.

How can a cannabis brand in Canada stand out?
“Every choice a cannabis brand makes is extremely important because of how they can’t market themselves on traditional channels, such as print and broadcast,” Brown says. She compares cannabis marketing to the plant itself: “It’s not just one big thing a brand needs to do but many small things added up. Like the entourage effect in cannabis. Brands need to activate all the cannabinoids in their marketing toolbox.”

Sharing the human side of a company, such as executive profiles, is another step cannabis brands can adopt. “Is your point-of-difference values based? If a brand aims to be environmentally friendly, that should be reflected in the leadership team and the programs that brand carries out,” Brown notes. 

“Because it’s such early days for legal cannabis in Canada, there aren’t any successful brands yet,” Brown says. “So when you hear that this expert or that panelist theorizing that a certain brand has won over customers, it’s just someone’s perspective,” she adds.

Brown knows all about the need to stand apart from others, even within her own agency. That could be why she enlisted a heavyweight name for her advisory board: Precious Chong, daughter of cannabis celeb Tommy Chong.

“I’ve actually known her as a friend for years,” Brown explains, “and she grew up within the cannabis culture and knows it really well, and it helps that she’s a creative too since she works in content creation as a filmmaker and comedian.”

Where does Brown see the future of cannabis marketing heading? “The industry hasn’t really hit its stride yet. 2019 will be all about brands realizing they need to provide customers with a very focused and singular message. And we’re hearing a lot about education from licensed producers but we haven’t seen that much. Those brands will have to figure out a few things, because not everyone wants to be educated in the same way. So this is truly anyone’s game right now.” 

References:
  1. Via interview conducted Dec. 11, 2018
  2. Crowns Agency https://www.crowns.agency/

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