Pubdate: Wed, 19 Oct 2016
Source: National Post (Canada)
Copyright: 2016 Canwest Publishing Inc.
Series: O Cannabis: Part Four of Six
Author: Denise Ryan
Pages: A2-A3


Why the celebrity licensing model is not just the gold standard for a 
cannabis brand, it's a necessity

Cedella Marley's voice has a comforting, familiar lilt, the sound of
the Jamaican heritage she shares with her late father. Some 35 years
after Bob Marley's death, the Marley family has moved into the
cannabis business with Seattle-based Privateer Holdings to launch
Marley Natural, a line of hemp body products, elegant black walnut
accessories and smartly packaged smokeables.

Their biggest target market? Canada - once the recreational market
opens up.

"We're very excited to bring Marley Natural to Canada," says Marley,
who is on the phone from Miami. She adds a soft "Yeah, mon!" to her
sentence like a punctuation mark.

Bob Marley may be the most instantly recognizable name associated with
cannabis, but he isn't the only celebrity hawking a marijuana brand.
Celebrity licensing is the go-to model for cannabis marketers, who
will have to negotiate a legislative quagmire around advertising and
product outreach.

Willie Nelson, Snoop Dogg, Nick Lachey, Whoopi Goldberg, Wiz Khalifa
and Melissa Etheridge have all jumped into the cannabis business.
Some, like Nelson, Snoop and Goldberg, have launched their own
cannabis brands.

And Bob Marley? He's no longer alive, but brand Bob Marley certainly

Cedella Marley explains why the family chose Privateer to develop
their cannabis line: "We have the same values: Social change,
environmental sustainability, and to actually build a professional,
responsible and legal cannabis industry."

Professional, responsible, legal. Three calming words that point to a
future that is far from its smokey past and the counterculture that
made marijuana its love child.

Back when Marley performed in packed, smoke-filled arenas, "the herb"
came in plastic baggies. Rolling papers, roach clips, pipes and other
paraphernalia came from a "head shop." Cleaning the weed was part
necessity, part ritual - seeds separated from the weed like wheat from
the chaff.

Now, as the Canadian government prepares to become the first G7 nation
to legalize recreational pot, and parts of the United States lean in
the same direction, a sort of cultural cleaning ritual is also
underway. While major investors pour money into grow facilities,
distribution networks and product development, and celebrities sign
licensing deals, marketing experts are ready to confiscate your
baggie, perform a little smoke-and-mirrors trick, and hand back
something that bears little resemblance to the marijuana of decades

Olivia Mannix, founder of Canna-brand, a Colorado-based company
specializing in cannabis product branding, says the pejorative
stereotypes associated with pot smoking were their first target.

"First, we take away any of the vernacular such as 'weed,' 'pot,'
'ganja.' In terms of imagery, we skew away from any green leaves or
even the word marijuana."

Conversations with Mannix and others already building the market are
sprinkled with a distinct lexicon that signals this culture shift. In
the new world order, as frappucino is to coffee, so cannabis will be
to weed.

Of course, if you've just smoked a bong full of some paranoia-inducing
strain, you may see all of this as a vast corporate conspiracy to
control not just what you smoke, vape or ingest, but how you feel
about it. And you wouldn't be entirely wrong.

For investors, however, it's not about getting high. It 's about
getting rich.

Brendan Kennedy, the CEO of Privateer Holdings, a Seattle-based
private equity firm that raises capital and invests in the "cannabis
space," brands are not going to emerge as a result of regulatory
change, they are going to "fuel the cultural change."

It's not "Be The Change" anymore; it's "Brand The Change."

Several years ago, when Kennedy and his partners Michael Blue and
Christian Groh decided to develop a private equity fund and invest in
cannabis, investors were leery.

"We set out on this old-fashioned, boots-on-the-ground adventure to go
to places like northern California, Oregon, Washington, Colorado,
British Columbia, Jamaica, Israel, Spain, the Netherlands, trying to
understand the status of the cannabis industry," says Kennedy.

By the end of their research, which included eight weeks in Canada
interviewing everyone from medical cannabis patients to dispensary
owners and politicians, they had developed a convincing thesis:
Cannabis didn't have a popularity problem, but it still had an image

The argument they were able to bring investors was simple. "Cannabis
is a mainstream product consumed by mainstream people around the
world. Because of that, the end of prohibition is inevitable, and
brands will shape the future of this industry."

To address the image problem, Privateer, the brand, would look more
Wall Street than Haight-Ashbury. "We set out to create our own brand
at Privateer. We chose to wear suits. We weren't going to use the
typical slang words and cliches. We weren't going to use the leaf all
over the place or the colour green."

It's also good for business to position yourself as something of an
outsider to the product - perhaps it's a necessary qualifier when you
are asking for someone's money.

"I bought into the 'This Is Your Brain On Drugs' (campaign) and the
egg cracking in the frying pan, and all the cliches embraced by the
media on this product," says Kennedy of his teen years. In other
words, Kennedy was no stoner.

Privateer made three strategic brand acquisitions and boasts a
portfolio that is as carefully curated as its own image. First, they
picked up Leafly, an online cannabis resource with no revenue, but
lots of reach. Next, they landed one of Canada's coveted medical
cannabis licences. They opened a Nanaimo facility, which they branded
"Tilray" - a name that is appropriately neutral, pharmaceutical-sounding.
Privateer also landed the Marley deal, arguably the biggest fish in
the cannabis branding sea.

The celebrity licensing model is not just the gold standard for a
cannabis brand, it's almost a necessity.

Cannabis smokeables and psychoactive edibles can't be patented or
trademarked in the U.S. because marijuana is still classified as a
Schedule One drug, alongside heroin. By align your product with a
high-profile celebrity (Leafs by Snoop, Willie Nelson's Willie's
Reserve, or Marley Natural) and you can claim something that may be
even more valuable: a kind of social patent.

A celebrity with a massive social media following can neatly sidestep
regulatory issues around advertising as well.

An Instagram post or Tweet can reach residents of states, territories
and countries where marijuana advertising is prohibited. Indeed, when
Snoop Dogg signed on earlier this year to a deal with Tweed, a
licensed medical cannabis operation in Smiths Falls, Ont., he tweeted
out a picture of himself wearing a Tweed T-shirt. That picture reached
his 14.3 million followers, not including re-tweets.

Privateer's brand director Scott Lowry saw marijuana's image problem
as a creative opportunity.

Lowry had come from Heckler, the Seattle agency that did with coffee
what Privateer needed for cannabis. Heckler created the Starbucks
logo, and can claim some responsibility for creating an entirely new
coffee culture. When Privateer approached Heckler, Lowry was
skeptical, but Kennedy brought in enough research to make his case.

"I remember leaving that meeting and thinking two things: One was, if
these guys are right, this is probably the biggest opportunity we've
seen come through Heckler's doors since Starbucks," said Lowry in a
phone interview. It was also a huge branding challenge - and that made
it fun.

Lowry eventually left Heckler and joined Privateer as a partner. Like
Kennedy, he is careful to couch his affiliation with cannabis by
padding it with a context far removed from getting high. "It was my
72-year-old father-in-law who basically told me he was having some
health issues, who was telling me cannabis was the best medicine he
had," says Lowry.

"This plant had been demonized for a long time. There were conceptions
of the consumer that were fairly inaccurate. So for me from a branding
perspective, coming into a situation where you really have some things
working against you, and to see how you could really work in a
marketplace that had these strong preconceptions," he explains, was
very appealing.

Lowry had to figure out how branding could lift cannabis out of the
medical niche, fuel the cultural change that would make it as everyday
as a Starbucks coffee, and attract real investors.

Lowry used Honda's entry into the U.S. market as an example of how a
market could open up simply by changing perceptions of the product and
the user.

"Honda came into the American market in the 1950s when motorcycles
were associated with gang members and gearheads." The company launched
a campaign with the tagline "You Meet the Nicest People on a Honda."
The ads featured a mother with a child on a Honda, a boy and his dog,
even Santa Claus riding a motorcycle.

"Within four years, they had four times the dealerships that Harley
did. To me, it was a really good example of the way a brand had
changed the market," explains Lowry.

He says their research shows a high interest among consumers for
understanding of the product, its production, and how it will differ
from its black market origins. The strategic challenge in pulling down
old stereotypes and growing a new culture, one that is potentially as
lucrative as the alcohol industry, is to show, as Honda did, the
"nicest people," people like you and me. Their first print ad in the
New York Times in August 2014 featured a jogger, ponytail bouncing, a
businessman with a newspaper folded under his arm, and a tagline that
neatly turned any preconception about cannabis on its head: "Just Say
Know." No smoke, no bud, no bong - just people happily engaged in
positive activities.

Los Angeles-based optician Cheryl Shuman - dubbed the Martha Stewart
of the Pot Com Boom - takes her branding message in a different
direction entirely. Her Twitter avatar shows a glamorous blonde
peering through a veil of smoke. Unlike the Privateer crew, Shuman is
an unapologetic activist whose roots as a cannabis user are deep.

Shuman, who divides her time between homes in L.A., Vancouver and
Toronto, is up front about being an avid recreational and medical
cannabis consumer. Once known as "the optician to the stars," Shuman
counted Michael Jackson among her clients. She also had patients
medicating their glaucoma with cannabis.

"Back then, a couple of different celebrities were talking about
(cannabis), but it was kind of like talking about being gay. I equate
it very much to coming out of the closet."

Shuman says she turned to cannabis after a doctor recommended she try
it as a mood stabilizer. "I thought I was on Candid Camera," says
Shuman, "but it saved my life. They had me on 80 mg of Prozac a day,
five Xanax, a pill to go to sleep, another pill to wake up. I felt
like a pillhead. Cannabis changed all that. Once I started using
cannabis, my kids got their mom back.

"So I started the Beverly Hills cannabis club. I was a Beverly Hills
lady who used cannabis to save my own life and I didn't want to be
demonized for it." Nor did she want to be associated with what she
calls "that loser, stoner mentality."

The best way to build credibility in the cannabis industry is through
storytelling, believes Shuman. "The people who are really successful
in the cannabis industry are people who have been touched personally
by either not being able to get the plant to save someone's life, or
being able to save someone's life by being involved with the plant."

Charitable alliances are another way to build cannabis brands, says
Shuman. "We have the financial capabilities to sponsor events to the
tune of millions of dollars, to be the sponsor and open up that
conversation and get people who have been using cannabis for medical
reasons to get out and tell their stories. You don't have to be a
celebrity to have a brand in this industry. In this industry, the
people themselves are the heroes."

Many of her consulting clients are in Canada, and she names our prime
minister as one of her favourite cannabis-positive celebrities.
"Justin Trudeau is God's gift to cannabis. Right now, Canada is the
role model for the entire industry globally. Everyone is looking to

Shuman, who says she has two cannabis-related reality TV series in
development with Bravo, sees "healing" for communities that legalize
the plant.

"We are literally witnessing the beginning of the end of cannabis
prohibition worldwide, and the healing of various nations and
economies worldwide in terms of job creation and tax benefits."

Cedella Marley also invokes the healing power of cannabis, with even
more soothing words. "Daddy's message was unity, personal freedom and
social justice. It is what he sang about, what he fought for, and how
he lived. It's timeless, and it still resonates."

Timeless, resonant, responsible, healing. Mainstream cannabis may be
nothing more than marijuana in new packaging, but like a cup of
Starbucks coffee, the delivery is easy.


As reefer is being repositioned as less harmful, even medicinal,
counting among its benefits the disempowering of organized crime and
the increase of tax revenue, the re-codifying of the language we use
around it is already underway.


Marijuana [mar-uh-wah-nuh] noun Definition: Common, but outdated 
pejorative term for cannabis. Usage: "When marijuana is smoked, it can 
have a narcotic effect."

Dealer [dee-ler] noun Definition: Street supplier who sells or trades in 
marijuana. Example: "I'm going to see my dealer to pick up a bag of weed."

Paraphernalia [par-uh-fer-neyl-yuh] noun Definition: Equipment or 
apparatus used with or necessary for smoking dope, ganja, weed, hash or 
oil. Usage: "The head shop is where I go to get my rolling papers, 
bongs, roach clips and other paraphernalia."

Stoned [stohnd] adjective (slang) Definition: Intoxicated or under the 
effects of drugs, high. Usage: "After I smoked that doobie, I was really 

Hot knives [hot] [nahyvz] adjective/noun (slang) Definition: Knives 
heated to a high temperature to facilitate burning of hash or oil for 
inhalation. Usage: "We were doing hot knives and that's how I burned my 

Pothead, Stoner [pot-hed] [ston-er] noun (slang) Definition: Frequent 
marijuana user, someone who likes to get baked. Usage: "That weird guy 
who lived in my basement was a real pothead."


Cannabis [kan-uh-bis] noun Definition: Flower of the hemp plant. Usage: 
"This dinner party is BYOC, bring your own cannabis."

Budtender [bud-tend-er] noun Definition: A dispensary expert who helps 
you select the cannabis that best meets your needs. Usage: "Hey, 
budtender, dabs for everyone, on me."

Ancillary items [an-sil-uh-ree] noun Definition: Lifestyle items used in 
conjunction with cannabis, such as stash boxes, bongs and vape. Usage: 
"All of our ancillary items are child-resistant."

Deepened perception [dee-puh nd] [per-sep-shuhn] Definition: The 
sensation experienced after vaping or ingesting cannabis edibles or 
smokeables. Usage: "I was in a state of deepened perception."

Dab [dab] Definition: To dab is to inhale the vapours from a cannabis 
concentrate made using an oil extracted with butane. Usage: "Hot knives 
are so '80s. I prefer to dab without a rig."

Enthusiast [en-thoo-zee-ast] noun Definition: A cannabis user who 
embraces a lifestyle of deepened perceptions and knows their indicas 
from their sativas. Usage: "She really knows her terpenes. She's a true 
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MAP posted-by: Matt