David A. Paleschuck's Branding Bud: The Commercialization of Cannabis arrives at a good time with companies competing for shelf space in dispensaries and adult-use pot shops and the legal industry generally exploding from coast to coast. Paleschuck's 200-page paperback is published by Quick American.
We asked Paleschuck the following questions:
You refer to several celeb cannabis brands - Willie's Reserve, Leafs by Snoop, Marley Natural, Chong's Choice - in the book. Those were among the first wave of such brands dating back to 2016. So many more celeb canna brands like Monogram, Houseplant, Garcia Hand Picked and Etheridge Botanicals have come along since then. We list 45 brands here. What do you think of this explosion?
I'm not impressed, nor a fan of celebrity brands. At its core, a brand is a promise and the ability to consistently deliver on that promise. Producing cannabis takes skill and knowledge and is riddled with rules and regulations that vary from state to state. Because of these intricacies and regulations, most producers - let alone celebrities - have a hard time consistently delivering quality products across multiple states.
A "celebrity cannabis brand" is usually nothing more than a licensing deal where a celebrity attaches their likeness to a brand and receives a royalty based on sales. In very rare circumstances have celebrities actually become involved in product development, quality control and other critical business functions. That said, celebrities are typically leveraged as the "outermost layer" putting the bow on the gift, but not adding any real intrinsic value to the final product.
What are the keys to having a successful celebrity cannabis brand?
The basic keys of creating and maintaining a successful celebrity cannabis brand are the same as creating and maintaining a non-celebrity brand. A meaningful brand starts off with understanding your customer; their needs, rituals and habits; their preferred form factor: flower, edibles, beverages, etc.; and a brand archetype that resonates with them. Just layering a celebrity onto a product falls way short of what savvy cannabis consumers seek today. Additionally, many cannabis consumers find it hard to pay the extra 10%-20% for the just celebrity's name when the same product is often sold on the same shelf for less without the celebrity packaging.
"Without any real added value, celebrity cannabis brands can be equated to nothing more than a kid's backpack with Mickey Mouse or Teenage Mutant Ninjas printed on it."
Which are your favorites?
While I do have my favored celebrities, I don't have any favorite celebrity cannabis brands. If I had to choose a favorite celebrity brand, I'd look for those brands where the celebrity adds value whether real or perceived. Perhaps Jim Belushi's line because he's rolled up his sleeves to better understand the plant or Seth Rogen's new brand Houseplant because it brings along with it Seth's quirky perspective and the line of pottery and home accessories he's developed. Without any real added value, celebrity cannabis brands can be equated to nothing more than a kid's backpack with Mickey Mouse or Teenage Mutant Ninjas printed on it.
Readers are often put off by celebrity brands. They like to buy them, but also complain about them. The discussion ranges from "Who cares?" to "greedy bastards." Why do you think that is?
Different people have different reasons for purchasing celebrity brands. More often than not, it's because of the novelty component rather than loyalty to a particular celebrity. The truth is, most of the time the associated celebrity has little-to-nothing to do with the cannabis being produced, sold and distributed. That's why people react with "Who cares?"
What can celebrity canna brands do to have a more favorable image with consumers?
Celebrity cannabis brands have to offer real value to their consumers - just like non-celebrity cannabis brands do. In fact, I believe the bar is even higher for celebrity brands to compete. The truth is, not only is a celebrity and their brand under more scrutiny, they have to offer more to account for the extra 10%-20% fee they're making. So, whether they add more value through knowledge, humor, perspective or something different, it must be meaningful and of real or perceived value in order to succeed as a celebrity cannabis brand.