Pharmaceutical marketing is by no means rare. You can hardly get through an hour of binging your favorite TV programs without seeing at least a few pharma ads. And yet, things are a little bit different in medical cannabis. Cannabis ads are not plastered all over TV and the internet. But they are out there. And they create an odd situation for the medical cannabis sector.
The states tend to tightly regulate how cannabis brands can advertise. Regulations are the strictest in states where only medical cannabis is allowed. So how does a brand like Cookies successfully market itself as a lifestyle brand in a medical-only state like Utah?
Beehive Farmacy, with locations in Brigham City and Salt Lake City, carries the Cookies brand marijuana. Perhaps other Utah medical cannabis pharmacies carry Cookies as well. But the chances of seeing a Cookies spot on TV are slim to none.
Medical-Only Programs Are Strict
Your average medical-only state is extremely strict about how cannabis brands can market themselves. There are rules in place governing where they can advertise, what they can say, and even how they can present their messaging. But a brand like Cookies is known worldwide. How do they tailor their marketing so as to not run afoul of different state rules?
It is one thing to tailor traditional marketing to state regulations. Tailoring digital marketing is an entirely different matter. For instance, a cannabis company’s website can generally be accessed from anywhere in the world unless access is purposely blocked by the website owner or an ISP.
The Sensitive Matter of Messaging
Logistics notwithstanding, there is also the matter of messaging. It is a sensitive matter from both regulatory and cultural perspectives. Starting with the regulatory, cannabis brands cannot claim things that are not true. Cookies could never say that their cannabis products cure cancer. If they did, they would be in deep trouble with the FTC and FDA.
Tailoring messages to the culture might be even more tricky than complying with state and federal regulations. Why? Because the culture is always evolving. Not only that, but Utah’s culture is also vastly different from California’s. Utah is a more conservative state while California leans far left.
Cannabis brands are no different than their counterparts in other industries. They need to tailor their messaging to a specific audience. But that audience may have different viewpoints based on geographic location.
Marketing Medicine Is Always a Challenge
Regardless of a brand’s audience and where it is located, marketing medicine is always a challenge. Brands want to showcase their products with some sort of lifestyle messaging that suggests consumers will enjoy a better quality of life with their products. But how far does a brand take that message?
Lifestyle branding is especially challenging in medical cannabis. If a brand takes things too far, it could be accused of going beyond medicine and reaching into the recreational space. That is a no-no in states like Utah.
Taking lifestyle branding too far also raises suspicions over the sincerity of medical cannabis brands who insist they only want to help people suffering with chronic pain, cancer, PTSD, seizure disorders, etc. For many of those patients, spending the day on the beach with friends and family is less of a priority than just getting out of bed.
Marketing medical cannabis needs to be an interesting job. If nothing else, combining tried-and-true marketing principles with the virtue of medical cannabis creates an odd situation. Marketers need to walk a fine line between doing what’s right for the brand and staying on the right side of regulations and cultural trends.