How to Market Cannabis to Different Generations

Not Your Mother’s Pot: Generational Advertising & Cannabis

It’s no question that the cannabis industry has changed dramatically in recent years. We’re no longer limiting the conversation to sneaking a few puffs at a Dave Matthews concert—we’re talking about a $17.5 billion industry (Forbes) boasting benefits to our sleep, relaxation, mental, and physical health. States are increasingly loosening the reigns on medical and recreational use of cannabis. The stigma surrounding cannabis use still exists in the US, but increased use has led to normalization.

According to a study done by the Brightfield Group, 44% of cannabis consumers report using more cannabis due to the pandemic.

Recreational cannabis use was sent soaring since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with users seeking an escape from heightened stress, anxiety and boredom.

The stereotypical cannabis user is far departed from the young male sat around a coffee table (reference basically any Seth Rogen movie from the early 2000s). Regular cannabis users are skewing female and Gen Z. In fact, cannabis users in the US rose to 51% female in 2021, with 30% of those being women under the age of 30.

If you’ve visited a regulated dispensary, you’ll have noticed that the customer base is extremely diverse in age, gender and lifestyle. It’s your uncle who seeks relief for his bad back, your mom who finds that cannabis helps her sleep at night, your girlfriend who likes to relax after a long workday.

We would be remiss if we didn’t address the generational differences that exist when it comes to cannabis. Differing life experiences and events affect all advertising- especially a taboo topic like cannabis. Let’s unpack this.

And what better day to do so than during Cannabis Awareness Month?

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Cannabis Marketing Across Generations

Each generation is looking for something different from advertisers. When approaching the task of advertising cannabis, throw out the one-size-fits-all mindset!

Baby Boomers

Baby Boomers are the generation that may take the most convincing, but they’re one of the fastest growing cannabis-consuming audiences. Born between 1946 and 1964, you’ll find Boomers gravitating towards print, television, and radio, forming lasting relationships with the brands they love. Boomers are looking for trustworthy, long-form content to understand the full scope of a product or service. A native article or clickable Facebook ad might be just the thing to educate this audience on how cannabis will benefit them—you may just save them hours of superfluous research on the topic. Creating a customer service experience marked with credibility and professionalism will sign, seal and deliver with this generation.

Gen X

Be careful not to overlook the generation that represents a fifth of the population, with close to a third of all  spending power. Generation X, born between 1965 and 1980, is a hard-working, family-oriented audience at the peak of their careers. Gen X is divided on the topic of cannabis; some are fully embracing medical and recreational use, while some remain skeptical on the effectiveness and potential negative effects. When it comes to shopping, Gen-Xers are more digitally savvy than Boomers, embracing online shopping but still appreciating an in-store experience. From advertisers, they’re looking for integrity and transparency, valuing a connection with a brand. Gen-Xers will be won over by video or magazine content with a strong and thoughtful message.

Millennials

A crowd that won’t shy away from change, Millennials are the largest segment of the adult population. The generation born between 1981 and 1996 values authenticity, optimism and exploration; learning the limitations of a closed mind from their Baby Boomer parents. Millennials are familiar with the benefits of cannabis, representing 52% of U.S. adults who use marijuana.

Millennials will value your marketing message if it’s made to be honest and personal. This group is digital first, but not quite as distracted as their younger brothers and sisters in Gen Z, so content like OTT or streaming audio is well within reach. Consistent, clear messaging that makes the effort to relate to the individual user will push the needle with Millennials.

Gen Z

For many Gen Zers, turning 21 doesn’t just mean being legal to drink alcohol, it also means being able to use cannabis legally. With the increasing normalization of cannabis taking place in their adult life, Gen Z has a very different perception of the drug and how it might fit into their lives.

Gen Zers like myself are coming of age to the cannabis industry with strong principles and high expectations of brands. It’s not enough to sell a product that benefits us, we want to know that the brand aligns with our values on sustainability, human rights, and other social issues. Generation Z, born between 1997 and 2010, hardly know a life without social media and will take well to all things digital. Empowering this group to make educated decisions on cannabis will be of the utmost importance in your next campaign.

Important callouts for cannabis advertising

Define your brand. That’s a basic rule of marketing whether launching a new recreational or medical cannabis dispensary or a new sneaker line. Often easier said than done but worth the effort. Whether managing yourself or working with a partner below are a few things to consider:

Educate and empower

Consumers are actively seeking information surrounding CBD and cannabis. This growing and ever-changing industry has great power for you and your brand, but you know what they say about great power…

Educating your target audience across any generation on the effects, methods of use, and potential benefits will garner trust between your brand and your customers. Discussing responsible use and explaining your lineup of products is pertinent to gaining trust and building a loyal base.

Need to know the cannabis advertising regulations in your state? MNI has your back. Get your guide today!

Understand the Rules

The legality of cannabis varies state-by-state and is constantly changing. Staying up to date on where your marketing opportunities lie could be the difference for your canna-business. Check out our guide to what’s what in every state here (link state by state guide).

Leverage Social Media

We live in a social media-driven world, make no exception for the promotion of your cannabis business. When promoting cannabis, restrictions apply across major social platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, but there is power in developing a community on your socials to drive users to your store or website. Please be sure to note that all content is 21+ to avoid holdups with social platforms.

  • Show off your new and existing products with explanations on where they come from or how to use them
  • Tell the stories of happy customers and what they use cannabis for
  • Promote in-store or online events

As a Gen Zer, I’ve watched recreational cannabis become a shoppable industry as I’ve come of age, so I find myself to be a little more desensitized cannabis advertising than my older relatives.

One way or the other, cannabis has become an increasingly more normal part of our lives. Despite the research, it’s still something we’re growing used to. It’s a delicate and nuanced topic. But at the end of the day, advertising is a business of understanding people.

When approaching advertising cannabis across generations, consider how you would talk about it with your own family. How you might have to take the time to do more explaining with your mom or dad, discuss the health benefits with an ailing relative in need of relief, or check out the newest watermelon-flavored gummies with your Gen Z brother. Understanding these differences can make all the difference for your next ad campaign.

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The MNI Approach: A Cannabis Marketing Solution

CannabX—a programmatic ad exchange specifically for the cannabis industry—allows you to run across cannabis-friendly sites. Whether you need audience targeting as specific as recorded buyers of THC oils, advanced geo-fencing for your dispensary or a competitor’s, mobile app data and more- you don’t have to worry about jumping through regulation hoops here.

Continuing to stay informed on state laws and regulations, updates in the industry, and latest trends—let MNI as cannabis experts do the research so you don’t have to.


About the Author

Leah Kaczmarek is a Digital Media Planner at MNI Targeted Media, but calls upon her start in journalism at the University of South Carolina (Go Gamecocks!) to bring you the above. After work, you can find her cooking something new in the kitchen, practicing oil painting, or working on her photography side-hustle.