Leading the Legalized Cannabis Charge

December 14, 2018

By Crystal Albanese


In the 2018 elections, three more states voted to legalize cannabis in one form or other. MedMen, often called "The Apple Store of Weed," is the breakout brand leading the legalized cannabis charge. At the 2019 ANA Brand Masters Conference, Chief Marketing Officer David Dancer will share how MedMen became a successful brand in an emerging industry so quickly. We sat down with Dancer to get his thoughts on MedMen, its marketing, and the cannabis industry as a whole.

Q. MedMen is in the business of selling cannabis as much as it is in the business of normalizing the use and sale of it. How do these two priorities combine to help create the overall MedMen brand?

The brand itself is a top priority, and we have efforts to ensure that we are at the forefront to help legalize cannabis. We have a government relations department and a focus on education around cannabis. The retail aspect is focused on destigmatizing the sale and use of cannabis as well as creating an experience that's like any other retail experience. Customers interact with educated staff who can guide their purchase or use technology to learn more about and purchase cannabis. Seventy percent of consumers who use cannabis are men 40 years and under, and of those interested in trying (30 percent of Americans), 50 percent are women. We have a focus as we move forward to target women, educate, and bring in new customers.

Q. MedMen is betting big on legalization, particularly by opening a flagship store in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue. Do you believe the risk will be rewarded since recreational cannabis is not legal in New York?

Our real estate strategy is core to the business strategy of MedMen. In order to normalize and destigmatize the use of cannabis, our customers need to be able to find us where they find other retail experiences. We have stores in California in Beverly Hills and Venice to ensure we are located where consumers already shop, alongside the stores they frequent. We don't view it as a risk. We are in a great location. People who haven't gotten their medical marijuana card and are interested can come in and learn more. In a state like New York, where adult use for medicinal purposes is legal, by already having a store open we are ready for the future should recreational cannabis become legal.

Q. MedMen has recently launched several marketing campaigns, again, with the aim of normalizing the use of cannabis. How did your campaign come about and what was the response to it?

We are on the third campaign for MedMen. Our ideas for the campaigns come from industry insights and shopper transactions and stem from the strategy of destigmatizing purchasing cannabis. Now that cannabis is legal in California, our first campaign was to build awareness of recreational cannabis and encourage shoppers to come to MedMen. The taglines were, "Shop. It's legal." and "Heal. It's legal." That campaign then evolved into our "Forget Stoner" campaign. This campaign takes on the stereotypes that plague our consumers. We cross out the word "stoner" in the ads and show a cop, athlete, nurse, or grandma. It shows a user that cannabis is for folks like you and me. Then, we evolved to our next campaign. We are ultimately a retailer and want to drive folks into our store. For this campaign, we took photos in Beverly Hills, Venice, and similar locations and showed our talent from the neck down. We can all see ourselves in this consumer set. The text in the campaigns is there to broaden the conversation, and you also see that the people in the pictures are proudly carrying bags from MedMen. Before, a customer would walk out of a cannabis store with paper bags. We want to show this is a retail experience like any other. All three campaigns have been received really well. It's resonating with folks and driving them into the store. 

Q. What do you think marketers can learn from the cannabis industry and/or creating a brand in an industry that in its infancy?

A piece of advice in the infancy stage: being bold, driving the conversation, and staking a claim are all really key to how MedMen has established itself. MedMen is a $2 billion start-up. You can get mired down in analysis, strategic planning, and overthinking. It's not a time to overthink. We want to be strategic but we have our hands tied with regulation and a lack of data (due to it being a brand new industry). By being bold, innovative, and nimble, we can make sure that we are leading the way. Also, getting the right people in the marketing team is important. Hire folks that have deep expertise in different functional areas. Our massive store growth and team growth reflects the state of our industry. Get the right people, remain innovative and bold, and make decisions quickly: that's my advice to building a brand in an emerging industry.


Get more advice and insights from David Dancer, chief marketing officer at MedMen, at the 2019 Brand Masters Conference, February 27–March 1, 2019, in San Diego, Calif.


Crystal Albanese is a senior manager of committees and conferences at the ANA.

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