By Kim Lawton, Senior Vice President of Operations, Inspira Marketing Group
Authenticity is everything for the modern consumer, with 88% saying that authenticity is a critical element when determining which brands to support. This makes it increasingly harder to believe that celebrities are “just like us” when it comes to the items they shill across marketing channels. It just doesn’t hold the same sway — that is, of course, with one exception: cannabis.
Though it was previously believed that celebrity endorsements had a limited impact on cannabis sales, the reverse appears to be true. Celebrity marijuana brands seemingly outsell brands with less star power, and significantly so. But this begs the question: Is it actually the celebrity endorsements driving the popularity? Or something else?
While a handful of strong celebrity success stories may look promising, many cannabis connoisseurs have been debunking the celebrity sales-driven theory. Specific examples of celebrity cannabis brands’ performance include Seth Rogen’s Houseplant, which achieved $9.3 million in sales and ranked 91st among California’s top sellers in 2021. However, other celebrity brands like Marley Natural, B-Real’s Insane, and Jay-Z’s Monogram did not make the top 100 list, with sales ranging from approximately $4.3 million to $700,000.
Some think it isn’t necessarily the celebrity endorsement triggering the increase in sales but the price; many celebrity-branded products come at lower price points than others. They’re backed by larger funding (to standardize operational efficiencies and lower costs per unit) and offer promotional events and other partnerships that may contribute to the consumer’s ultimate purchase decision.
Regardless of the skepticism, celebrity endorsements undeniably do boost brand reach and recognition. The unique celebrities themselves have a great deal of influence on their audience and offer easy access to a specific target market who’s already listening. They also provide immediate name recognition, which can help a brand stand out in what’s quickly becoming a crowded marketplace. So, what does it take to make endorsement successful?
A Match Made in Ganja Heaven?
As with any other endorsement, celebrities must be extremely diligent when selecting the cannabis products they associate with. While there’s much to gain from such a partnership, quality, safety, and effectiveness are key. By promoting and advocating for a particular cannabis product, celebrities give it a stamp of approval. Make the wrong choice, and they could negatively impact the brand’s reputation or potential partnerships. Endorsements can also help to normalize cannabis use and stabilize the stigma with the average consumer — or, at the very least, allow for more open conversations about the plant. All these are essential factors for would-be-endorsers to consider that can impact their careers and the brand’s success.
However, it isn’t just celebrities who should be selective with their endorsements; cannabis brands must take great care with their partnerships. Sure, the product almost immediately benefits from the thousands (if not millions) of built-in fans from a celebrity endorsement, but owners must ensure whoever they partner with is a good fit for the brand. Fans with little interest in cannabis won’t drive sales, and it’s important that the celebrity upholds their organization’s values. A strong partnership must be established on a cohesive foundation or otherwise risk coming off as inauthentic, which won’t do much to garner customer support.
Celebrity brand collaborations can be exponentially more successful when all parties’ values align, and that goes double for values around environmental or socially conscious causes. Today’s consumers are belief-driven buyers, and a majority feel that a company’s leader should embody a brand’s purpose. If a celebrity is to be the face of a cannabis brand, shouldn’t the same “rule” apply? A celebrity needs more than just a good personality to be the right brand ambassador; they should share the company’s goals and core principles.
Carving Out a Niche in a Crowded Marketplace
Though this should go without saying, the right endorsement or partnership can inspire a great deal of confidence from a customer base. And with the global legal cannabis market expected to grow at a compound annual rate of 30% from 2023 to 2030, the upside opportunities are huge. Overall sales will likely reach $226.09 billion in a matter of just six-plus years. However, that also means new entrants will be hitting the market at an accelerated rate, so brands need to stay ahead.
By investing in marketing and focusing efforts on brand recognition and customer retention, celebrity-endorsed cannabis strains will no doubt pull ahead of the competition. And while smaller brands simply don’t have access to the same amount of funds or marketing resources, there are always options to throw your name in the ring and start small.
Even with an endorsement, remember that celebrities should serve as just one piece of an overall marketing strategy. Other channels will be necessary to maximize the impact of any marketing effort, as a combination of several factors will always play a role in whether the consumer will choose one product over another. With the right endorsement strategy and ambassador, your brand can fly high with the other star-studded brands selling out of dispensaries today.
About the Author
Kim Lawton is the founder and CEO of Enthuse Marketing Group, a woman-owned small business based in New York City. Kim has 25 years of proven experiential operations and marketing experience spanning branded consumer products, and she has cross-functional expertise in both creative development and marketing campaign activation, measurement, and management.