Editor's Note: This story was updated at 9 a.m. ET March 4 to reflect comments from Shawn Gold, Chief Marketing Officer of Lowell Herb Co.
Although cannabis is becoming more accepted as it is legalized and regulated in both U.S. states and abroad, the industry still faces unique obstacles that other businesses do not, such as a lack of advertising and marketing channels.
This challenge was evident when CBS rejected Acreage Holdings’ Super Bowl ad in January, and the issue recently resurfaced at the Academy Awards, when ABC would not air Lowell Herb Co.’s commercial highlighting the company’s sustainable practices.
The rejected $2-million ad was directed by documentarian Cutter Hodierne and featured actress Bella Thorne.
"The commercial is a celebration of legalization, and an effort to further normalize cannabis culture," Lowell Herb Co.'s chief marketing officer, Shawn Gold, told Cannabis Business Times. "We wanted to show the whole story, from the people making our products to the people enjoying them—how everyone is connected in the process of mainstreaming cannabis. Creatively, the commercial is a nod to agrarian California pioneer farm culture, while referencing new opportunities in the dawn of cannabis legalization. It highlights the American craftsmanship involved in creating Lowell Herb Co. products, similar to a spot for craft beer or Kentucky whisky. We wanted it to feel familiar that way."
The ad was also meant to set ethical and environmental standards for the cannabis industry, Gold added. "Who you buy from and how they operate as a company is as important as what you buy. That certainly goes for all industries, but is particularly true with cannabis. With all eyes on the cannabis industry in 2019, we think it is important to set ethical and environmental standards. We tried to show this sentiment in our TV spot as much as we could, and it is wholly the reason why we put our ethical pledge to consumers on every package we sell."
ABC cited a zero-tolerance policy toward cannabis when it denied running the commercial.
"We chose to promote the ad during the Oscars, which is a quintessential California moment," Gold said. "As a Southern California brand, Lowell is a favorite of the creative class—early supporters were people like January Jones, Jimmy Kimmel, Sarah Silverman and Chelsea Handler. It was not something we set out to do; those are just folks who appreciated our appreciation for heritage, craftsmanship and sustainability. We also used director Cutter Hodierne, who is a Sundance award-winning film maker. [We] wanted to show his work to an audience that loves films. So, we created a mini film reframing cannabis perception. The spot was created using our farmers, our employees and Hollywood talent that are authentic consumers of Lowell Herb Co. products."
ABC's rejection of the commercial highlights the work still needed to normalize cannabis, Gold added.
"As a leader in the cannabis industry in America, it is important that we ask to be treated fairly, and that we continue to ask until cannabis is treated like its contemporaries in spirits advertising," he said. "It is less about being rejected and more about continuing to push forward for inclusion in our effort to further normalize the cannabis industry."
Although cannabis businesses still may not be able to advertise like any other business, this kind of normalization is slowly happening, as evidenced by the inclusion of Coda Signature’s products in the Academy Awards’ popular “Everyone Wins” gift bags, which are presented to every nominee for Best Actor, Best Actress, Best Supporting Actor, Best Supporting Actress and Best Director.
“As word spread that Coda Signature was planning to expand into the California market, several companies reached out to the company to explore interest in gifting programs, including the marketing company that’s behind the famous swag bags for the nominees,” Coda Signature Co-Founder and CEO Mark Grindeland told Cannabis Business Times. “Coda Signature chose the Distinctive Assets ‘Everyone Wins’ program because it had a stellar reputation in the market.”
The gift bags, which have been assembled by marketing company Distinctive Assets since 2002, this year featured uninfused versions of Coda Signature’s Crescendo Collection edibles, Coffee & Donuts and Cream & Crumble chocolate bars, and Symphony bath bombs, as well as limited edition White Vape batteries, which can be used with Coda Signature’s extracted oil cartridges. The products, which are already available in Colorado, will debut in California this spring. Also included in the gift bags were vouchers to create a customized THC-infused package of Coda Signature’s products, following the California launch.
“We didn’t hold back. We shared an array of items representative of our focus on top-quality ingredients and unconventional flavor combinations,” Grindeland said. “It is another step towards normalization and a sign of growing social acceptance. We didn’t just put our toe in the water with the Oscars, we dove in head first. As a result of our involvement in such a high-profile event, it’s likely that other cannabis companies will be competing with mainstream businesses for attention at top-level events such as the Oscars—and successfully stealing the spotlight."