×

US corporations blazing new trails on 420

LOS ANGELES — Pot­heads have for decades celebrated their love of marijuana on April 20, but the once counter-culture celebration that was all about getting stoned now is so mainstream Corporate America is starting to embrace it.

No, Hallmark doesn’t yet have a card to mark “420.” But many other businesses inside and outside the multibillion-dollar cannabis industry are using April 20, or 4/20, to roll out marketing and social media messaging aimed at connecting with consumers driving the booming market.

On Saturday, Lyft is offering a $4.20 credit on a single ride in Colorado and in select cities in the U.S. and Canada. Carl’s Jr. is using a Denver restaurant to market a hamburger infused with CBD, a non-intoxicating molecule found in cannabis that many believe is beneficial to their health.

On 420 last year, Totino’s, a maker of frozen pizza snacks, tweeted an image of a microwave and an oven with the message: “To be blunt, pizza rolls are better when baked.”

“I think brands that associate themselves with cannabis kind of get that contact high. In other words, they’re just considered to be cooler by association,” said Kit Yarrow, consumer psychologist at Golden Gate University.

Marijuana normalization has snowballed since 2012, when Colorado and Washington were the first states to legalize recreational use. Eight more followed, including California, Oregon and Michigan. Medical marijuana is legal in two-thirds of the states, with conservative-leaning Utah and Oklahoma among recent additions.

Meantime, the CBD market has exploded. CBD oil can be found in candies, coffee and other food, drinks and dietary supplements, along with perfume, lotions, creams and soap. Proponents say CBD helps with pain, anxiety and inflammation, though limited scientific research supports those claims.

U.S. retail sales of cannabis products jumped to $10.5 billion last year, a threefold increase from 2017, according to data from Arcview Group, a cannabis investment and market research firm. The figures do not include retail sales of hemp-derived CBD products.

Ben & Jerry’s was one of the earliest big brands to foster a connection with the marijuana culture through marketing. The Vermont-based ice cream company features Cherry Garcia and Phish Food, honoring late Grateful Dead member Jerry Garcia and the band Phish. Both bands are favorites of the marijuana-smoking crowd.

To mark 420 in recent years, Ben & Jerry’s debuted taco and burrito inspired ice cream sandwiches. This year the company partnered with a San Francisco Bay Area cannabis retailer to give customers who place delivery orders on Friday and Saturday a free pint of Half Baked, a combination of cookie dough and fudge brownie.

“We have a lot of fun, never being overt, but really playing into the moment of 420,” said Jay Curley, the company’s global head of integrated marketing.

This year the company is using the holiday to call for criminal justice reform.

“We’re actually using this as an opportunity not to tell a stoner joke like we have in the past, but to raise what we see as a much more serious issue around justice,” Curley said.

Those in the marijuana marketplace also are ramping up advertising around 420. Much of the marketing about cannabis or related products takes the form of online ads, emails, text messages and social media. Shops typically offer discounts. Some host parties with food and entertainment. The larger 420 events can draw thousands of people.

Verano Holdings, whose businesses include cannabis shops, sponsors street festivals where attendees can learn about marijuana products, listen to music and grab a bite. The company expects this Saturday’s festival in Chicago, going on its third year, will draw more than 4,000 people.

COMMENTS