Weed Infused Drink Finds a Clever Way to Skirt Insta Ad Regs

By | January 15, 2021

A cannabis-infused drink called Cann may have created a new ad genre—ASMR for the eyes—with a social campaign that features helium balloons floating skyward, a guy being tickled with ostrich feathers and a woman running her hands through thick shag carpeting.

The mood-elevating posts “allude to the product’s benefits,” said Sarah Betts, creative director at agency Red Antler, with “visceral, dreamy imagery, coupled with mysterious copy.”

One thing missing in the intentionally cryptic work: any mention of the brand name or shots of the product, which flies in the face of traditional marketing. But there’s a good reason for the subterfuge.

The lack of branding means that Cann has been able to buy media on Instagram, using only the tagline, “The Warm & Fizzies,” at a time when major social platforms still don’t allow call-to-action ads for weed products.

To comply with regulations (weed remains federally illegal), Cann had to “hack” the digital ad ecosystem, according to Blair Ballard, the brand’s head of strategy.

The fastest growing cannabis category

Current rules “don’t allow us to lead with the clean, clear sales propositions that people are used to seeing nowadays,” she said. “To make an ad that was compliant, we had to steer far away from that and be extremely vague about what we’re selling.”

Instead, the brand and its agency tried to get their point across via “the warmest, fuzziest scenarios we could think of,” Betts told Adweek. “The biggest creative challenge was adequately illustrating Cann’s effects.”

Cann is a carbonated booze-free high with 2 milligrams of THC per can. It fits into several popular trends, like microdosing, dry January and New Year’s wellness resolutions.

Its “Warm & Fizzies” campaign debuts, not coincidentally, as THC-spiked beverages are booming. While still making up only a fraction of overall dispensary sales, drinks are the fastest-growing category in cannabis, estimated to be worth $8 billion globally by 2027, according to data from Fortune Business Insights. 

In California alone, the “consumables” segment, which includes beverages and edibles, is expected to grow 140% over the next five years, BDSA says.

Cann is based in Los Angeles. The startup has sold more than 2 million cans of its “social tonic” in 2020, competes with brands like Keef, Calexo, Wunder, Mad Lilly, Artet and House of Saka, among others that offer healthier, low-calorie, no-hangover alternatives to cocktails.

And the field is getting more crowded. Heavyweights in the traditional liquor space are busy creating alliances for THC-laced products. Pabst Labs, under a licensing deal with the legacy PBR brand, debuted weed-infused seltzers in California, and the Heineken-owned Lagunitas Brewing Co. and concentrate company AbsoluteXtracts are behind the hot-selling Hi-Fi Hops. 

[The approach] allowed us to put the focus entirely on the feeling and build equity around that

Lindsay Brillson, Red Antler’s executive creative director

[The approach] allowed us to put the focus entirely on the feeling and build equity around that

The U.S. deals follow similar moves in Canada. In that country, Anheuser Busch InBev has partnered with Tilray, and Constellation Brands and Canopy Growth leaped ahead of the pack in 2020 with several infused-beverage launches. 

Many dispensary owners, noting a recent uptick in sales, have devoted more real estate and energy to promoting infused drinks. Chris Lane, CMO at Airfield Supply Co. in the San Francisco area, has launched a month-long pop-up shop with Cann, dovetailing into the retailer’s January wellness focus.