I checked into the event and was handed a 156-page piece of content marketing. The event sponsor behind this impressive slab of advertorial had clearly spent a fortune on it. This was some sophisticated branding – or so I thought at first glance.
As the night wore on, I took a closer look. The front cover depicted the company mascot wearing a feathered headdress and holding a peace pipe. Hmm. But that was nothing compared to the back cover. On it appeared a dozen girly pics – a gal sporting double underboob lofting a phallic bong, a model smoking a joint, her bethonged behind leaning against a balcony railing, a disembodied rack foregrounded by a bowl of weed … You get the picture. I sure wish I hadn’t.
There is no doubting the success of the company presenting itself thus. Marijuana Business Magazine reported in October 2017 that it was “among the oldest and most established companies in the cannabis business,” with “a presence in 95 countries and … on track to ring up $105 million in sales this year.”
And they are far from alone in their embrace of this icky advertising imagery. The pulchritudinous party girl has been a staple of cannabiz promotion since cannabiz began promoting itself.
Still, branding your company with tits & ass? SO Cannabis 1.0.
This particular company is a B2B operation whose audience is overwhelmingly male, and sex sells. But isn’t there a way for sex to sell that’s not quite so … gross?
“This is where branding and marketing consultants make the difference,” says Canna Ventures principal Dorota Umeno in her essential Jan. 16, 2018, piece “Sexy vs. Sexist Cannabis Advertising.” “Experience … can make all the difference between engaging and offensive,” she continues. “Here is a great list of triggers you can watch for when it comes to figuring out what’s sexy and what’s sexist.”
Instrumentality – treating the object as a tool for another’s purposes
Denial of Autonomy – treating the object as lacking in autonomy or self-determination
Inertness – treating the object as lacking in agency or activity
Fungibility – treating the object as interchangeable with other objects
Violability – treating the object as lacking in boundary integrity and violable: The objectifier treats the object … as something that it is permissible to break up, smash, break into.
Ownership – treating the object as if it can be owned, bought, or sold
Denial of Subjectivity – treating the object as if there is no need for concern for its experiences or feelings
Reduction to Body – the treatment of a person as identified with their body, or body parts
Reduction to Appearance – the treatment of a person primarily in terms of how they look, or how they appear to the senses
Silencing – the treatment of a person as if they are silent, lacking the capacity to speak
The woman pictured above, for instance, could be photographed WITHOUT a plume of smoke obscuring her face.
These 10 points are illuminating, but you don’t have to be a feminist scholar to know sexist bullshit when you see it. Female or otherwise, feminist-self-identified or not, in 2018, very few of us look at boobs and buds and think, “Wow, I must buy this product!” The Cannabis 2.0 consumer – now more likely than ever to be a woman – just thinks, “Ew.”
The enjoyment of cannabis is no longer strictly a men’s leisure pursuit. Women are rapidly becoming a force in the market, a growth area with few (if any) parallels in mainstream commerce. Let’s update our brand thinking to comport with the new reality.