Since cannabis legalization in 2018, cannabis advertisements have slowly crept into Canadian media across the country. Some of them are absolutely necessary: government ads clarifying the rules around legal cannabis, MADD-style “Don’t Drive High” public service announcements, etc. However, there has been a huge emphasis on cannabis education in branded ads from licensed producers. These ads have tried to teach users how to roll a joint, how to select a cannabis strain, which formats are available, and other topics. Is this information actually useful for cannabis users? Should licensed producers focus on making their ads more similar to other consumer packaged goods?
Why is there so much educational messaging out there?
The regulatory environment created by Bill C-45 does not currently allow brand messaging that strays too far from educational messages. Brands are prohibited from mentioning price or distribution. They also can’t associate the brand with positive or negative emotions related to glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk, or daring. Even the most liberal in-house lawyer would have a hard time condoning a cannabis ad that looked like a typical beer, pop, or cereal commercial within the current regulations.
How much do consumers know about cannabis?
The prevalence of educational messaging suggests that the average Canadian doesn’t have a lot of knowledge or awareness about cannabis. In order to see if educational messaging is worthwhile, we looked into what Canadians know about the cannabis they consume.
When asked what type of strain (indica, sativa, hybrid, or CBD-forward) they last consumed, almost half of Canadians had no idea. This might be because users don’t have access to that information, or don’t really care about it.
We also ask users about their knowledge of legal cannabis brands. About 40% of cannabis consumers were not aware of any legal cannabis brands from a list of over 100. Over 55% of cannabis users were not able to identify which cannabis brands they had ever tried. Also, 60% didn’t know which brands they had consumed in the past 4 weeks. These metrics suggest a huge lack of brand knowledge across the market, despite significant advertising spend by large brands.
How much does consumers’ knowledge affect their purchase decisions?
In addition to asking cannabis consumers about their consumption and purchases, we also ask them how they felt about their purchase. Almost 70% of cannabis buyers are somewhat or very confident in their purchase. This is surprising given the number of consumers who report not knowing the type of strain they consumed or brands they’ve tried. Less than 10% of cannabis buyers report any kind of uncertainty about their purchase. That most consumers feel confident about their cannabis purchases is a huge win for the cannabis industry as a whole.
One might think that this confidence might be driven by heavy cannabis users. It is generally true that they are more confident in their purchases. Almost half of heavy users report that they are very confident and another third are somewhat confident in their cannabis purchase. Moderate and light consumers are more likely to be only somewhat confident or neutral, but even they feel generally confident about their purchases. Light users feel neutral or more confident about their cannabis purchases almost 70% of the time. Consumers across the spectrum of cannabis consumption feel confident about their purchases. This might mean that cannabis is not so different from other consumer goods.
Is educational messaging helping the cannabis market overall?
We’ve already seen that overall incidence rates are flat, so educational messaging is clearly not encouraging the “canna-curious” to try cannabis for the first time. Among cannabis users, product and brand knowledge is mixed at best. However, this has no effect on how people feel about their cannabis purchases. Cannabis consumers feel very confident what they’ve bought, so educational messaging is not necessary to help consumers navigate the category.
On the branding side, the lack of knowledge and awareness suggests that the race for the top cannabis brand is far from over. Brand-forward advertising instead of educational messaging could make a huge difference in both awareness and sales. Moving away from educational messaging can also free brands up to show their personality as much as possible in the current regulatory environment. Government bodies and advocacy groups should continue to push an educational message and are the best placed to do so.
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