Lessons in outrage marketing for weed activists

For those who want to diversify the industry, sometimes speaking out can have the opposite of the intended effect

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Did outrage marketing win Justin Trudeau the election? It’s a question cannabis marketers are pondering after another racially-tinged controversy.

Enter BC brand BLK MKT with the latest outrage – its “Once you go BLK…” marketing campaign, unveiled at the recent Lift Vancouver Expo. You’d think we’d know better by 2020.

Besides the obvious problem of trading on racial stereotypes, there’s the brand’s name. No one calls the illicit trade in weed the “black market” anymore. Legacy market is preferred.

The small-batch brand should know. It boasts having some of the highest THC cultivars in the bud business grown by experienced legacy growers. But apparently, someone didn’t get the memo.

Norton Singhavon, CEO of GTEC Holdings, which launched the BLK MKT brand, initially appeared amused by the blowback on social media.

As Twitter continued to explode, Singhavon defended the campaign. The company claimed in a statement later that it ran the slogan “by men and women of various ethnic groups, including those of African descent, and received no negative feedback.”

The statement goes on to say that, “other than a group of individuals on Twitter,” the campaign was “well-received.” The statement also mentions that the company’s VP of Marketing is of East African descent.

When Jeremy Jacob, owner of Vancouver’s Village Bloomery chimed in with a poignant series of tweets reflecting on the brand from the perspective of a Black man, Singhavon reached out for an in-person meeting to clear the air.

All’s well that end’s well.

But it’s unclear whether the company will ditch the campaign. The brand sold all of its strains within four hours of launching online. Either way, it’s not likely to be the last time a cannabis brand chooses to shock and awe to draw attention to itself. The idea has become a flip on the script on what passes for high advertising in cannabis circles these days.

As companies prepared for legalization, many brands looked to progressive values to redefine cannabis marketing. Body positivity and diversity reigned supreme for a hot minute, with brands embracing marketing that deconstructed “bud babes” and stoner stereotypes.

Then Instagram celeb bad boy Dan Bilzerian came riding into Canada with big plans to take over the industry. The backlash to his arrival didn’t seem to hurt Bilzerian’s prospects, even as some retailers organized a boycott of his products behind the scenes.

Cannabis culture has a long history of making headlines for the wrong reasons. Today, breaking social norms is the fastest way to put yourself on the map, it turns out.

It’s a double-edged sword for those who want to diversify the industry. Sometimes we end up having the opposite of the intended effect when we speak out. So what are all of us minions of virtue doing colouring within the lines? 

Despite offending many, BLK MKT’s marketing strategy was ultimately a success. We’re still talking about them, aren’t we?

Lisa Campbell is CEO of Mercari Agency and co-chair of the Cannabis Beverage Producers Alliance. 

Tags Business