Celebrity endorsements for brands have always been risky, but with cannabis brands – they’re even trickier.
As entrepreneurs rush to stake out a piece of a still-ballooning, multi-billion-dollar cannabis market, many are searching for the best way to put a “Notice me!” sign on their operation—rushing to make deals with celebrities.
Celebrities have been linked to many cannabis brands, and more announcements keep coming. Within the current legal frameworks, using celebrities to create fame must be carefully done. In Canada, the Cannabis Act prohibits the promotion of cannabis products and services by means of a testimonial or endorsement, or any depiction of a real or fictional person. It also prohibits presenting cannabis in any way that “evokes a positive or negative emotion” or connecting cannabis with a way of life “that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.” Such a definition leaves brands pretty hamstrung to leverage any celebrity.
That said, here are some of the ways cannabis companies are trying:
Business partnerships and culture connections
Whether or not celebrities have formal business roles in cannabis partnerships means very little. Celebrities’ primary job within this industry is to operate as unofficial brand ambassadors, here to connect and sell consumers a lifestyle and brand through mere association.
Recently, Canopy Growth bought a 20% share in Seth Rogen’s new cannabis brand: Houseplant. The companies communicated that the relationship was one of joint ownership—Rogen to be part of business strategy and development. The actor, whose film career includes movies such as: Knocked Up, 40-Year-Old Virgin and Pineapple Express (to name a few) often plays characters that love a good “high”.
Among these kinds of partnerships are many more notable ones. In the US, Tommy Chong, of ‘Cheech and Chong’ has a line of products called Chong’s Choice. The rapper Snoop Dog has a licensing deal with Canopy for content and brands. Other famous business connections include Kevin Smith with Beleave, Gwyneth Paltrow with MedMen, and GCH with Willie Nelson’s brand; Willie’s Reserve.
Many other celebrities, who have been associated with cannabis culture in the past, are gaining visibility in the cannabis business. Hoping customers associate their brand with the celebrities’ movies, music, style or attitude, these brands are counting on much being said by a celebrity’s name and face alone.
Canopy announced a relationship with Martha Stewart, the lifestyle guru who has made an empire around wholesome entertaining. Her role will be to advise on the development and positioning of upcoming product offerings. The press release stated, “Canopy Growth will be leaning on Martha’s vast knowledge of consumer products while exploring the effectiveness of CBD and other cannabinoids as they relate to improving the lives of both humans and animals.” Canopy is also likely counting on Martha’s fame to get the attention of a group of consumers that may be new to cannabis.
What can celebrities really do?
Right now, celebrities are limited to being just road companions on a brand’s journey to greater awareness, though they can’t provide any real leverage or expertise yet. If there ever comes a time when celebrities can truly endorse a cannabis product and commend its quality and purpose, it will be very interesting to see who emerges as a truly valuable spokesperson.