How Cannabis Marketers Are Busting Stoner Stereotypes

As cannabis decriminalization spreads throughout the country, recreational and medical
cannabis marketers are battling legal red tape and stoner stereotypes to attract a new
generation of cannabis consumers.
A certain segment of the boomer population spent their formative years in a haze of hippie-filled
dagga smoke.
Three decades later, skater dudes reveled in their stoner-stereotyped rebellion. Like the sweet,
herbal, skunk-like stench that lingers on your T-shirt after a Trance festival, cannabis carries
with it connotations that are hard to shake as it enters the mainstream marketplace as a
decriminalized recreational product—not to mention a legally pharmaceutical offering.
Even in the markets, the laws and regulations governing cannabis’s production, distribution and
use are expansive and burdensome for companies that operate in this space—and for
marketers working to promote it. Like alcohol brands, recreational cannabis are battling negative
perceptions while attempting to do their due diligence to promote responsible use of their
products. And like pharmaceutical brands, cannabis producers must battle burdensome
regulations and continue a lengthy and arduous quest for approval.
Marketing agencies are sprouting up across South Africa to help cannabis companies promote
more positive perceptions, and owners and employees at cannabis-based brands are working
on sophisticated marketing strategies to nip stoner stereotypes in the bud.
“Surveys have shown that half of the people in this country have tried cannabis at one point in
their lives, and as the laws change, more people will be comfortable with the idea of openly
consuming and discussing their cannabis use,” says Craig from CannaLab, director of Cannabis
Testing facility, an organization that focuses on ending cannabis prohibition and promoting
quality control. Indeed, Craig’s assertion is backed up by data from the, conducted by the South
African Department of Health, which found that 49% of the South Africa population reportedly
has tried cannabis, making it the most commonly used illicit drug in South Africa.
Acceptance has risen since the haze of the hippie ’60s. But even though South Africans might
have tried it and might be in favor of legalizing it, they don’t necessarily think that their neighbors
should be smoking it—at least not for fun. 78% of people support the legalization of cannabis for
medical use, but only 43% of people support legalization for recreational purposes.
While savvy marketing could help change public perception—and it likely will, just as other adult
vices eventually gain acceptance—cannabis marketers face rolls and rolls of legal red tape,
Craig says. “The rules surrounding the marketing of cannabis are really strict, and they really
limit the outlets that these businesses have to reach potential consumers.”
Smarterthinkng, a marketing agency dedicated solely to cannabis industry clients, opened its
doors as decriminalization picked up steam.
A Budding Business
College students the world over often scheme of launching businesses with their peers, and
when you attend Varsity these days, you’d likely be concocting ingenious ways to enter the
nascent industry for which South Africa has become the unofficial home base.
Howard and Craig decided to leverage cannabis’s legalization there to found their own niche
marketing agency, which they called Smarterthinking. Both graduates, Howard and Craig have
known eachother since 2001, and then the idea of creating Smarterthinking was born as a
specialized offshoot on the eve of cannabis’s decriminalization in South Africa in 2018.
Smartethinking now has clients, including producers, cannabis growing operations, and
companies that sell vapes, extracts, edibles and other cannabis accessories. Most of
Smarterthinking’s clients are based in Johannesburg, but the founders are in talks with brands
in Cape Town, and in Durban, where recreational use is the norm.

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