The cannabis industry continues to morph into a legitimate and possibly lucrative vertical for media agencies to pursue, as cannabis brands raise their marketing game to new heights.
Jenny Shi, associate director of media for cannabis brand Charlotte’s Web, explained her company’s approach to harnessing media in multiple forms to grow market share and find new users.
The following conversation has been condensed and edited for clarity.
What agency/agencies does Charlotte’s Web use to plan and buy media? What about creative?
We brought all media planning, media buying and creative work in house. The integrated marketing creative agency shoots, produces, edits and resizes assets to support all cross-department needs, and the media team plans and executes all media strategy, partnerships, and performance media.
What are the primary media Charlotte’s Web uses to get the message out? And how they have delivered?
One way to achieve growth for the brand is to drive top-line awareness: building awareness of our mission, growing overall category awareness, and producing content that educates consumers on the benefits of hemp extract with naturally occurring CBD.
Another way is to invest heavily in digitally prospecting new, incremental users and driving e-commerce traffic and sales.
We build a full funnel plan every year — for our larger brand actions that help invigorate conversations about hemp access, like our “Trust the Earth” project, or event-related activations, like our sponsorship level support for Realm of Caring’s Rock the RoC, we turn to more mass reach channels like digital out of home, print, terrestrial and streaming radio, and connected TV. Getting our story in front of consumers in unique ways has had a positive correlation with our brand awareness. For our evergreen campaigns meant to drive mid-to-lower funnel objectives, we prioritize in-house digital channels like direct-to-site partnerships, programmatic, paid search, paid social, and affiliate. These campaigns provide much more immediate performance results, and as the in-house media agency, we are able to nimbly shift budgets based on performance and priorities.
How far away is the agency world from embracing cannabis as a legitimate marketing category — months, years?
I think there are different levels to “cannabis” when we’re talking about what partners are willing to advertise. “Hemp-derived hemp extract” is the path of least resistance when evaluating if the brand can advertise on a site or network — though there are still some roadblocks when buying traditional media. “CBD” is still rejected by certain publishers, platforms and sites, though it seems generally accepted by most digital partnerships.
Products that include more than the federally legal definition of hemp at 0.3% THC levels, going into actual cannabis/marijuana, are going to take longer to be accepted into the space as a legitimate category, and so much of that timeline is dependent on federal-level decisions. Even then, it could take some time for publishers, networks and ad tech companies to have their legal terms finalized in order to take on those higher THC clients en masse.
That being said, it’s already happening — there are data providers who aggregate transaction-level cannabis data that can be used for ad targeting. Several partners offer the ability to target users based on their visitation to dispensaries. And there are websites that provide consumers with information about strains, products and store locations. Where this part of the cannabis category is today, is where hemp-derived CBD advertising was back in 2015. It requires more scrappy thinking and an expectation to hear “no” but an intuition to build partner relationships ahead of time.
Have you ever bought media programmatically?
We have — programmatic is a fantastic testing ground on top of being one of the first scalable channels to open up to CBD advertising. When we first launched our partnership with The Trade Desk, we were working with smaller budgets, and needed to understand who were the right site direct partners and audiences to evaluate for future activations — and testing whitelists, data elements and private marketplace deals helped set up an initial RFP blueprint for us. It also allows us to be more nimble with digital OOH and banner amplification campaigns, as well as activate our evergreen full-funnel campaigns that prospect new users, retarget site visitors and retain customers.
How big do you foresee the cannabis market growing by year-end 2021 and 2022?
I’m of the opinion that we will continue to see growth, while not explosive absent any changes in federal legislation or regulatory, in the hemp category going into 2022. And I’m hoping to see a conjunction of both a returning growing economy and a decision by the federal government that could propel the industry into the tens of billions — though we may still be a few years away from that.
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