Welcome to the inaugural issue of Zeitlines. Like its predecessor blog, The Week in Big Ideas before it, Zeitlines is a commentary on ideas - the extraordinary, the fascinating, the curious and beyond. In short, we endeavour to capture the moment, the zeitgeist.
So what exactly is The Zeitgeist you ask?
Merriam Webster says this:
Zeitgeist: noun, often capitalized
zeit·geist | \ ˈtsīt-ˌgīst , ˈzīt- \
the general intellectual, moral, and cultural climate of an era
You will find the blog format is more fluid now – we are going to mix it up a bit, featuring narratives of various lengths and styles; written by a variety of authors. What will remain the same is our desire to pique your curiosity about the world we live in and our ask of you to continue to share your thoughts and ideas with us, as well. It’s amazing what conversations arise when you do!
Now for this week’s perspective…
Exactly one week from today, cannabis will be legal in Canada. Whether you support it or not, it is a transformational cultural moment in the story of our country. So, it seemed only fitting that our first Zeitlines would feature some observations on the space from a marketing perspective, courtesy of Republic President, Kathy Murphy. Fitting too that we follow that piece with a snack. Fries anyone?
Candid About Cannabis
Here we are on the eve of legalization of cannabis in Canada. Given the number and variety of new businesses emerging into the space almost daily, if you’re in an agency like Republic, you probably have, in some way been a part of this exciting, wild, inspiring, challenging, change-making industry. If you’re in-house at a cannabis company of any shape or form you are, no doubt, having an experience like nothing you've encountered to date in your marketing career.
Over the last year and a half working with cannabis clients, while legislators, growers and funders shaped the space they operate in, we’ve had some incredible experiences, and collaborated on some great work. Under the category of “the best ideas that never happened,” we even created an amazing campaign that, by the time it was ready to go, could not legally see the light of day [UGH!]. Ultimately we learned a few critical things about how both our clients and our team could be successful in the industry.
So, we thought we’d share a couple of those observations.
1. What is today may not be tomorrow.
Unlike start-ups in the digital space, the smartest operators in this industry understand they can’t start out with an exit strategy. They need a long-term vision focused on growth. But, how they’re going to get there will evolve. This means operating with the required rigour in a way that enables flexibility.
We’ve learned that from a marketing perspective, guardrails and guidelines should be set, creative foundations are a must, and stories need to be told. But everything else should be fluid.
This was true as the rules were established, but will remain true even after October 17. Although legalization will offer some stability, there continue to be many different aspects of the industry still to be defined and discovered.
As the legislation is interpreted and evolves and as the competitive winds shift with consolidations, public offerings, and the introduction of new products, the best plan is a plan that is based on what is known now for certain. While it’s against our nature as professionals who make our careers out of planning for our clients, we’ve learned not to get wedded to an idea or the typical media plan.
Instead, our approach and our best advice is to get the building blocks in place and then get comfortable building different things with them.
The opportunity for cannabis marketers is to forge partnerships with like-minded purveyors who offer nimbleness, flexibility and freedom to shift rapidly as the ground beneath shifts. Which it will.
We’ve had the great pleasure of working with a number of highly experienced executives from a number of established industries who are now in the cannabis industry. Several of them are founders.
Our ability to scale with them as they scale and to evolve what we offer as their needs change has been critical. The brief for one recent project was to develop brand style guidelines and templates. We’re now designing a website and creating a logo. Next up will be thought leadership content. And, planning for today with a partner who is nimble is the best way to be ready for what will come tomorrow.
2. Noise does not = value.
We can’t seem to get away from a steady stream of news highlighting the incredible potential of this emerging market; we get newsletters in our inboxes several times a day; we get invited to an endless number of webinars offered 24/7; we read articles in newspapers; get highlights in our feeds and listen to the growing number of podcasts in this nascent industry.
We follow education campaigns designed to help consumers learn more about cannabis. We hear about high profile partnerships one day that dissolve the next. We’ve even seen clever campaigns launch featuring brands with no products to sell.
The noise around cannabis is deafening. There is competition. There is clutter. There is confusion. But the important question still to be answered is how Canadians will respond.
Just last week, our friends at Pollara released research that shows only a slim majority of adult Canadians (54%) accept legalization. At the same time, legalization appears likely to spur only a marginal increase in marijuana usage, at least in the early stages. Less than two in ten say they are likely to buy marijuana through the new legal retail system, and of those only 5% have never tried it. Just 12% expect to use cannabis on a regular basis. Not exactly growth inspiring numbers.
These statistics will likely change as access, experiences and comfort with cannabis evolves. What is clear, thanks to the regulations, is that the successful brands will be the ones who are able to break through and form 1:1 relationships.
While some may see the regulations as limiting, we have come to learn that they offer meaningful opportunities for brands to authentically engage with people.
Critical to that will be creating value for consumers and earning their loyalty through demonstrating that what they stand for is as important as what they sell. Our belief is that loyalty will come when cannabis brands exist with purpose and are willing to take a clear stand on what matters to their audiences.
To have impact, the starting point is what we at Republic have dubbed, Citizen Empathy - an understanding of the role your brand can play in making your consumers’ lives not just easier, but ultimately better.
We’re very grateful for our partnerships with the great folks at Marquee Health, Muskoka Grown, Cannabis Growth Opportunities Corporation and the BlackShire Group who have shared these beliefs. We are inspired by their passion and enthusiasm for how the legalization of cannabis will transform lives.
We are excited about what is ahead for and with them as we continue to navigate the opportunities ahead of us all with cannabis.
Surprise with Your Fries?
Here’s something we just couldn't resist from two of McDonald’s global agencies. This week, activist artist Banksy shocked the world when he arranged for his art to self-destruct by shredding at a Sotheby’s art auction after it sold for $1.4 Million. Two of McDonald’s agencies - one in Austria and one in Malta reacted with these beautifully designed branded references on social media. Brilliant.