[There’s a lesson here for all marketers—legacy brands have clouded our understanding of what marketing can do today…]
US prohibition ended in 1933. After that, there was a gold rush that led to the creation of dozens of billion dollar brands.
80 years later, the prohibition against pot is ending in various places throughout North America and then, probably, worldwide.
The question some professional marketers are asking is: Will there be worldwide profitable brands for pot that are similar to Bacardi, Johnnie Walker and Smirnoff for alcohol?
Both industries are regulated. Both have products that are sold in specialty stores. Both use non-proprietary manufacturing techniques.
Here’s the big difference:
When alcohol marketing became legal, it coincided with the glory days of magazines, radio and then TV. The mass marketing phenomenon happened at exactly the same time as these brands were being rolled out—and along with cigarettes, alcohol brands were major advertisers, particularly in magazines (hard liquor) and TV (beer). The ads supported the media in a fundamental way (and vice versa–Rick’s Cafe anyone?).
But when cannabis marketing arrives, it’s the internet that’s dominant. And the internet isn’t a mass medium.
It seems like one. It’s used by billions of people.
But it’s a micro medium. A direct marketing medium. There are 3 billion people online, but they’re busy looking at 3,000,000 web pages (that’s only a thousand a page).
The other difference is that there’s a thousand-year tradition of the pub and the bar. And those facilities offer status games, word of mouth and significant margins that created another marketing engine for alcohol that won’t exist for cannabis.
Sure, it’s possible that the huge demand and profit margins will fund a winner-take-all advertising movement for pot. But it’s more likely to be more like local espresso or high-end chocolate or whisky (word of mouth) and less like vodka.