Those who say marijuana branding can’t be done look increasingly likely to be interrupted by someone doing it—most recently, Bethenny Frankel.
The former Real Housewives star turned Skinnygirl margarita queen is rumored to be cooking up her own strain of marijuana, one that (like her other products) will strive to help people stay thin. In the world of alcohol, this means less sugar and more vodka. In the marijuana world it means…well, wait, what does it mean?
“It will be a specially engineered strain of pot designed to not give you the munchies,” an “insider” told Us Weekly of Frankel’s alleged plan. “She read about how profitable the cannabis industry is and wants to get in on that.”
Those doubting the validity of this have been directed to a Twitter post on December 20th during a visit to Colorado: “OMG it's the craziest thing to see marijuana legal in Aspen. People walking into pot stores like it's the @Gap #prohibitiondone,” Frankel tweeted.
So the evidence that she’s actually embarking on this project is weak at best, and further weakened by the fact that she has yet to address the rumors publicly (she didn’t respond to The Daily Beast’s request for comment). But that even a murmur of it made national headlines is telling. Could cannabis branding be big business after all?
Actually selling cannabis “brands” to the general population is going to take some serious marketing magic—to begin with, successfully convincing customers that certain brands are superior. If the excitement surrounding the Bethenny rumors is any indication, we’re halfway there.
The other part—perhaps the more difficult one—will be the branding itself. As commodities go, cannabis isn’t exactly screaming for a brand. Part of this is purely cosmetic. There are just two distinct strains of the drug (three if you count the hybrid of the two), and one overpowering smell. The first strain, Sativa, is typically longer and thinner, evoking feelings of euphoria and excitement. Indica, the shorter and wider of the two, promotes relaxation—a sinking into a couch type of high. Although producing different highs, the two look virtually identical to an untrained eye—both bristly, dull-colored plants.
Dispensaries across Colorado and Washington have tried to get creative with little packages and medicine bottles, but with strict packaging rules enforced by the state (for child protection reasons), options are limited, as if they wouldn’t be already. There are, after all, only so many ways to bag weed.
Despite these hurdles, several brands are already making a name for themselves, with smaller ones following close behind. One of the most successful thus far is Dixie Elixirs, a Colorado-based manufacturer that sells seven “premium THC-infused” products, ranging from a watermelon cream sparkling soda to chocolate truffles. Nicknamed the “Willy-Wonka of Weed,” the company bills itself as the “future of cannabis.”
In an interview with AdWeek last July, CMO of the company Joe Hodas challenged the concept that cannabis can’t be branded. “You could say that all bourbon is bourbon—it’s the same proof, so what’s a brand matter? But it does matter,” he said. “We know people have an affinity for product quality and consistency, which is what we offer.”
Another contender is Marley Natural, a global brand of cannabis being launched by the family of the “herb” king himself, Bob Marley. The brand was introduced in November, a partnership with Privateer Holdings, “the world’s first global cannabis brand,” but won’t hit stores until late 2015.
This approach is different from Dixie’s, relying on the Jamaican reggae singer’s storied, public history with the drug. “Marley Natural will offer premium cannabis products that honor the life and legacy of Bob Marley as well as his belief in the benefits of cannabis,” says the mission statement on their website.
Marley’s business model revolves around specific “heirloom Jamaican cannabis strains” that are “inspired by those Bob Marley enjoyed.” The underlying message being: you want to be like Bob Marley? Smoke this. It’s a pretty solid idea, given how sanctified Marley remains in the American lexicon.
But the real ingenious in the Marley Natural plan may be the decision to become a brand with a strong social conscience. On top of the specific strains, the brand will sell cannabis and hemp-infused topicals, accessories, and limited edition products—all built on philanthropic initiatives that will “ensure that families and communities who have been harmed by prohibition have the opportunity to benefit from the new, legal cannabis economy.”
If Bethenny is indeed serious, she’s got quite a lineup of competitors. Luckily, skinny sells.