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The Brand Marketing Byte

Pioneer Intelligence Increases Transparency, Expands Data Set

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Editor’s Note: While CIJ and Pioneer Intelligence do not have any financial relationship to disclose, it is important to note that we feature Pioneer Intelligence’s data in The Brand Marketing Byte, a column that showcases highlights from Pioneer Intelligence’s Cannabis Brand Marketing Snapshots, featuring data-led case studies covering marketing and business development activities of U.S. licensed cannabis companies.


Pioneer Intelligence, a marketing analytics company, is known for their marketing performance benchmarks of consumer-facing cannabis brands in the United States. They use data to analyze business activity across three areas: social media, earned media and web-related activities.

Today, Pioneer Intelligence announced they released a list of their data partners on their website. The group of partners includes well-known companies like Ahrefs, Instagram, SEMRush, Meltwater and SimilarWeb.

Ben Walters, Founder of Pioneer Intelligence

At present, Pioneer takes in over 80,000 data points each week. The company’s team of marketers and data scientists share findings through weekly generated Performance Scorecard reports as well as Brand Marketing Snapshots. Pioneer Intelligence offers reports on more than 500 U.S. cannabis brands. Ben Walters, founder of Pioneer Intelligence, says their mission is “to help cannabis industry stakeholders better understand how marketing strategies & tactics resonate with audiences.”

According to Walters, their goal was to partner with best-in-class companies. “So, alongside the fact that these names are trusted by marketing professionals worldwide, our team of marketers and data scientists researched, tested and validated a sizable number of sources before eventually selecting this group of partners,” says Walters. “We feel we’re well positioned to support the industry with valuable, data-led insights.”

Along with the release of their partner organizations, Pioneer Intelligence also announced they have expanded the total input data set to 80,000 relevant data points per week. That’s up from 26,000 data points at the beginning of this year.

According to Walters, the company is actively growing their product offering and looking for new ways to engage with cannabis industry stakeholders. “The feedback received on the first version of our Brand Marketing Performance Scorecard has been super encouraging,” says Walters. “That said, as customers told us they’re looking for more actionable data, we’re building an expanded suite of reports that include, amongst other things, more granular metrics.”

The Brand Marketing Byte

Executing on Social Media: PlugPlay

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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The Brand Marketing Byte showcases highlights from Pioneer Intelligence’s Cannabis Brand Marketing Snapshots, featuring data-led case studies covering marketing and business development activities of U.S. licensed cannabis companies.

Here is a data-led, shallow dive on the California brand, PlugPlay:

PlugPlay – Executing on Social Media

This company is about three years old and based in Los Angeles. PlugPlay distributes proprietary vaporizers and cartridges to more than 150 dispensaries throughout California.

The company’s brand identity is a bit different from the traditional California cannabis company image. They trade the typical beach, yoga and plant imagery for a more modern, contemporary and sleek theme. Furthermore, the brand ambassadors featured throughout PlugPlay’s social media and communications reflect the diversity of its market.

The demographic they target in social media is increasingly tech-savvy and on the younger side. PlugPlay uses a few very smart tactics to engage with this demographic: They experiment with bold and creative content formats, some being a bit more refined than others. They engage in the comments section with their followers in an unabashed, genuine manner. Lastly, they share information with their followers on current events effectively, whether it be the vaping crisis back in 2019 or the current coronavirus pandemic.

All of these marketing tactics have worked tremendously in their favor. In March, PlugPlay’s social media earned them the #1 spot on the Pioneer Index, up from #10 in February.

FDA Says No, CBD Does Not Cure COVID-19

By Aaron G. Biros
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Former NFL player Kyle Turley made headlines this week for some eye-catching remarks. The retired offensive lineman entered the cannabis industry in 2017, when he launched Neuro Armour (now called Neuro XPF), a brand of CBD products.

Turley and his Neuro XPF brand made claims in recent weeks, both on their website and in various social media posts on Facebook and Twitter, saying that their CBD products can cure COVID-19. Two quotes below, one from their website and one from a Facebook post, show how the company touted CBD as an effective medicine for treating COVID-19.

  • “Crush Corona . . . While scientists around the world are working 24/7 to develop a COVID-19 vaccine, it will take many more months of testing before it’s approved and available. However, there’s something you can do right now to strengthen your immune system. Take CBD . . . CBD can help keep your immune system at the stop of its game. . . . We want everyone to take CBD and take advantage of its potential to help prepare your body to fight a coronavirus infection. So, we’re making all of our products more affordable.”

  • “Crush Corona! Your best defense against the COVID-19 blitz starts with a strong immune system. It’s what protects your body from the everyday attacks of bacteria, viruses, parasites and a host of other nasties. Learn more here: https://neuroxpf.com/crush-corona/ FDAlogo

The U.S. Food & Drug Administration (FDA) got wind of these marketing tactics and sent Turley and his brand a warning letter. “FDA is taking urgent measures to protect consumers from certain products that, without approval or authorization by FDA, claim to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure COVID-19 in people,” reads the warning letter. “As described below, you sell products that are intended to mitigate, prevent, treat, diagnose, or cure COVID-19 in people. We request that you take immediate action to cease the sale of such unapproved and unauthorized products for the mitigation, prevention, treatment, diagnosis, or cure of COVID-19.”

Before entering the cannabis space, Turley was diagnosed with chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE) and then early onset Alzheimer’s as a result of sustaining head injuries while playing in the NFL. Turley has a reputation for being an outspoken cannabis activist, crediting cannabis with improving his quality of life and eliminating the need for prescription opiates.

In a tongue-and-cheek response to the FDA, Turley posted the following on twitter: “OK OK, YOURE ALL RIGHT, ILL ADMIT IT! CHEAP CBD BRAND PRODUCTS WILL NOT PREVENT OR CURE COVID19!” Turley, making light of the situation, inserted the term “cheap” in there, almost challenging the FDA and disregarding their warning letter.

However, the FDA is not joking when they send these warning letters. According to the letter, Turley and his company have 48 hours to remediate the situation or face a federal court injunction.

The Brand Marketing Byte

Cannabis Brands in Culture: Tyson Ranch

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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The Brand Marketing Byte showcases highlights from Pioneer Intelligence’s Cannabis Brand Marketing Snapshots, featuring data-led case studies covering marketing and business development activities of U.S. licensed cannabis companies.

Here is a data-led, shallow dive on the California brand, Tyson Ranch:

Tyson Ranch – Cannabis Brands in Culture

To just about every American, Mike Tyson is a household name, even after retiring from boxing for more than 15 years. For the uninitiated, Mike Tyson founded Tyson Ranch (TR), his cannabis licensing and branding company, about two years ago. The brand’s flower, extracts and infused products are distributed to dozens of dispensaries throughout California.

Last year, the brand developed plans for a boutique luxury resort outside of Palm Springs. About six months ago, the brand expanded its footprint to another state, with TR cannabis products showing up on dispensary shelves in Nevada.

Last week, Tyson Ranch gained some media attention, but this time not by anything Tyson himself had done. The Simpsons aired a cannabis-focused episode where they featured a character based on Tyson, Drederick Tatum, a former boxer who now resides in Springfield, the fictitious setting of the show. The episode’s storyline gives a major nod to the TR brand with a mention of an upscale luxury resort dedicated to cannabis.

That earned media attention helped Tyson Ranch soar in Pioneer’s weekly index of the hottest U.S. cannabis brands, earning TR the #2 spot. This also ends March with a bang for TR, climbing from the 40th position overall in February to the 28th presently.

Custom Designed Packaging: Is it Right for Your Cannabis Product?

By Danielle Antos
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There are numerous plastic bottle and closure manufacturers in the cannabis industry today. And, there is a significant quantity of common bottle and closure styles as well. Many companies manufacture the same or similar products as their competition. But what if you’re searching for something different? Something unique that no one else has? A plastic bottle that will make your cannabis product stand out from your competition. Where can you find that package that is truly “something special?” Something that will elevate your brand?

It doesn’t matter if your cannabis business is a start-up in its infancy or a mature company with an established loyal customer following, creating attention-grabbing packaging is essential to your success. The packaging is the all-important and critical first impression. While the primary function of any packaging is to contain, protect and market your cannabis products, your packaging is a reflection of your company in the eyes of the consumer. In many ways, the package is the product. Using creative plastic packaging is a great way to differentiate your cannabis products from those of your competitors.

Finding the right manufacturing partner is the first step. Look for a company that has custom design capabilities and understands your vision for the perfect cannabis packaging.

When is Custom Bottle Design the Right Choice?

Sometimes, an off-the-shelf stock bottle and closure will work just fine. But if you are introducing a brand-new product that is unique to the industry, or if you are using a new product to introduce the fresh new look of your brand, it makes sense to develop plastic packaging that is distinct and eye-catching. You want your brand and products to look special and stand out on the shelf. There could also be filling equipment, regulatory, labelling, light sensitivity or other packaging requirements you must address as well.

Start every custom cannabis bottle project with a trusted manufacturer who thoroughly understands how you want the plastic packaging to look and the specifications it must meet. Ensuring that these qualitative and quantitative details are discussed will lead to on-time, on-budget and on-target custom cannabis packaging solution.

Achieving the Look You Want

Depending on your requirements, there could be several solutions to achieving the special look and specifications of your custom packaging. Discuss all of the design options that meet the needs of your product with your manufacturing partner; they should help you decide on the best direction for your packaging.

Selecting the right materials for your custom plastic bottle and closure is a big part of the process. Select materials that will provide the necessary aesthetics, chemical resistance, light transmission, bottle capacity and weight requirement that will protect your product.

Your manufacturer should also be able to guide you through the production process: should the bottle be blow molded or injection molded? Should it be made on IBM (Injection Blow Molding) equipment or EBM (Extruded Blow Molding) equipment? Answering these questions will ensure that the plastic bottle will be made efficiently and to the correct specifications.

Flawless Closure Integration for Your Cannabis Packaging

Designing the bottle is important, but you must also consider what type of closure will work best. Both items must be engineered to work seamlessly with each other. If the closure doesn’t work properly with the bottle, it can compromise the product it contains. Closures must always seal perfectly to ensure the integrity of the product inside. They must also be designed to function efficiently and meet the requirements of your filling operation.

A detailed CAD drawing should be provided, outlining every critical dimension of your HDPE or PET bottle and plastic closure. The CAD drawing provides the direction needed to create the manufacturing mold for your custom design. It also serves as a reference check to ensure that the product is produced according to your specs.

Ensure Quality through the Manufacturing Process

Ensure that your packaging partner has quality checks in place throughout the manufacturing process. Error detection systems, random sampling and testing will safeguard 100% conformity. It’s also important that manufacturers adhere to cGMP best practices and certifications under a globally recognized accredited program. This represents their commitment to continuously improving manufacturing processes and quality systems. It also helps minimize waste and manufacturing errors while increasing productivity. Risk of product contamination and other errors will be alleviated, and product efficacy and shelf life expectancy will be met.

Responsive Customer Service and Support

Many packaging manufacturers claim to provide exceptional customer service, but few actually rise up to that level. This is an important aspect of your project and you need to know that your questions will be answered and that your producer will keep you informed of any changes. Knowing that you can trust your supplier allows you to concentrate on other aspects of your business, like growth and profitability.

Reinforce Your Brand with Customized Packaging

In today’s competitive cannabis market, it’s more important than ever to have your product stand out from the competition. Your brand should help build awareness and develop consumer loyalty. When you deliver a consistently reinforced message, consumers will instantly recognize your brand. This consistency is a key factor in encouraging consumers to purchase your product over the competition — even when they want to try something new. Consistency makes your brand feel more dependable and people gravitate towards things they trust.

Your brand consists of more than just your logo and company name. Your brand identifies who you are, what your company stands for and the integrity of your product. Customized cannabis packaging will reinforce your brand and attract consumers to your products. Take time to find the right cannabis packaging partner who can help differentiate your brand and products from your competitors with special, eye-catching plastic packaging.

The Brand Marketing Byte

Introducing The Brand Marketing Byte

By Cannabis Industry Journal Staff
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Cannabis Industry Journal is pleased to announce our partnership with Pioneer Intelligence on this new series of articles. This is the first installment of The Brand Marketing Byte.

Pioneer Intelligence uses data to benchmark marketing performance of consumer-facing cannabis brands across three areas: social media, earned media and web-related activities. At present, Pioneer takes in over 60,000 data points each week. The company’s team of marketers and data scientists share findings through weekly generated Performance Scorecard reports as well as Brand Marketing Snapshots. Pioneer Intelligence offers reports on more than 500 U.S. cannabis brands. Ben Walters, founder of Pioneer Intelligence, says their mission is “to help cannabis industry stakeholders better understand how marketing strategies & tactics resonate with audiences.”

The Brand Marketing Byte will showcase highlights from Pioneer Intelligence’s Cannabis Brand Marketing Snapshots, featuring data-led case studies covering marketing and business development activities of U.S. licensed cannabis companies. We hope this column can serve as a resource for readers interested in branding and marketing.

In terms of scoring methodology, Pioneer Intelligence’s reporting favors “heat” over “strength” as the company prioritizes “relative change” above “absolute position.” This means that, for example when talking about social media audience size, they don’t just score brands based on the number of followers, but they also score audience growth. In fact, Pioneer’s algorithms put more value in growth figures than actual number of followers. For more insight on their methodology, along with a weekly updated index of the hottest brands, visit their website here.

Without further ado, here is a data-led, shallow dive on the California brand, Legion of Bloom:

Legion of Bloom – Content Strategy

Legion of Bloom (LOB) was founded in Northern California in 2015 when five independent growers joined forces. As one of the more widely recognizable brands in the region, they produce craft, high-quality cannabis products and are well known for their vape cartridges. The company has superior genetics and sustainable practices, which they capitalize on in their marketing efforts.

LOB has invested heavily in generating content, which appears to be fruitful. Their website has an in-depth introduction to terpenes for consumers and they utilize their blog section well with a high volume of quality content throughout the second half of 2019. It’s worth mentioning their website features full laboratory test results for all of their products, highlighting their commitment to transparency, consumer trust and brand recognition. Through looking at a few key metrics like indexed keywords, site strength and visit duration, it is apparent that LOB has increased their audience engagement significantly.

All of those factors combined, LOB has used a variety of content tools to grow their website consistently and sustainably, earning them #38 spot on last week’s Pioneer Index, a ranking of the hottest U.S. cannabis brands.

Judge A Book By Its Cover: Why Understanding Information Economics is Critical to Gain Consumer Trust and Build a Sustainable Brand

By Nathan Libbey
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Information economics has existed for decades and drives much of how products, including cannabis, are marketed and purchased. One of the essential frameworks that guides information economics are the search, experience, and credence properties of a product (Patterson, 2017). Understanding these different product attributes is key to setting up a sustaining cannabis product, corporation, and industry.

Search

The search attribute of a product is largely what we see prior to the purchase of a product. Images, claims, and packaging may all contribute to the search attribute of a product. You’ve got a good-looking, flower, pre-roll or edible, and it shows well on your insta page. Information is seemingly symmetrical between agency and consumer, what you see is what you get. In the developing cannabis industry, firms are investing a tremendous amount of resources into search attributes.

Experience

What is the effect of the product? There are two aspects of the experience attribute in information economics. Testimonials may be also considered experience attributes, as they give a user knowledge of how a product tastes, how long it takes to kick in, how long it lasts and descriptions of how others perceived the product’s deliverables. Despite testimonial power, experience is largely personal and occurs only after the product is consumed. Information is seemingly symmetrical; you get the experience that the agency planned and you anticipated. Advances in genetics, homogeneous production methods and potency testing demonstrate that the cannabis industry is investing in experience attributes.

A level playing field where transparency is at the forefront of all transactions will help solidify trust and drive sustainable growth. So, your product looks good, tastes good, and has very positive reviews. Customers can’t get enough; they are voting with their wallets for your product. But there is a third part of information economics you may be missing.

Credence

Credence attributes rely on information asymmetry. Think of used cars as a textbook example: sellers of used cars rely on asymmetry to motivate purchases. Highway miles, adult driven, oil changes every 3,000 miles, etc. are claims that can only be verified by the seller, the buyer has no way of knowing if these are true or not. Credence attributes can’t be verified by the seller due to lack of knowledge or expertise (Ford et al, 1988). The same goes for a consumable good like cannabis, only the grower or manufacturer knows what occurred in the “back of the house.” Product safety, therefore, is a credence attribute of cannabis products.

Investing in credence attributes in a young market may seem cost prohibitive. Many in the cannabis industry simply want to follow whatever the state they operate in dictates as the minimum allowable. In hemp we see states that require QR codes on each product that link to a COA, but many do not. Does the cost to produce the COA and QR code make a product more eye-catching or enhance the experiences? No, but those producing it may pay a hefty price if and when the product makes someone sick.

If a firm relies on fragmented, disparate regulatory bodies to dictate their investments in product safety, they will eventually face credence issues. Is smokable flower grown in Texas safer than that grown in Maine? We don’t have data to support either regulation’s effectiveness, so a firm or industry must dictate what the standard is and stick to it.

We need only look at the leafy green industry to see an example of a product that did not break any regulatory guidelines yet continued to sell a good with very negative credence attributes. How long were folks getting sick from leafy greens prior to them identifying the source? No one knows and that is what makes credence attributes so hard to pin down and develop an ROI formula for. Inputs that yield not-sick people aren’t known until someone gets sick. For leafy greens, they had an advantage – years of studies showing that they were good for you. Cannabis, unfortunately, doesn’t have that leg to stand on and faces an uphill battle gaining public trust.

As soccer moms (and dads) across the nation start to work cannabis into their play date wine sessions, the industry must ensure that they are investing in all avenues of information economics. A level playing field where transparency is at the forefront of all transactions will help solidify trust and drive sustainable growth.


References

Patterson, M. (2017). The economics of information. In Antitrust Law in the New Economy (pp. 39-60). Cambridge, Massachusetts; London, England: Harvard University Press. Retrieved February 7, 2020, from www.jstor.org/stable/j.ctvc2rkm6.6

Ford, G., Smith, D.,  and Swasy, J. (1988), An Empirical Test of the Search, Experience and Credence Attributes Framework, in NA – Advances in Consumer Research Volume 15, eds. Micheal J. Houston, Provo, UT : Association for Consumer Research, Pages: 239-244.

The Secret to Marketing Cannabis to Women

By Jacquie Maynard
2 Comments

The world is changing, and women are the ones changing it. Classic methods of advertising to women just don’t work anymore, and worse, make you seem outdated and out of touch.

According to a 2017 study by BDS Analytics, 45 percent of cannabis users are women and that number is quickly rising. It could be even higher since according to Van Der Pop’s Women & Weed survey, 66 percent of women hide their cannabis use. No one seems to be able to agree on the exact figure, but experts do agree that women are the fastest growing market in the cannabis industry.

Harvard Business Review reported in their 2009 article “The Female Economy” that worldwide, women control nearly $30 trillion in household spending and make the majority of purchasing decisions in the family. If they’re not directly purchasing something with their $18 trillion in collective income, they are influencing others’ purchasing decisions. Often, they are the primary caregivers in their family circles, making them responsible for buying things for their children, or on behalf of their elderly loved ones.

Gender can often be a marketing blind spot, even though it’s the biggest influence on consumer behavior, according to a 2017 report from The Journal of Business and Management. Now that the number of women working in the cannabis industry is at 36 percent and rising, they are using their experiences and perspectives to market effortlessly to women, and it shows. If your brand is ignoring this powerful demographic, you’d better catch up quick.

Why do women use cannabis products?

Women are into cannabis wellness, but like to get high, too.

In Headset’s 2019 report entitled “What Women Want in Cannabis: Shopping Trends Among Female Cannabis Consumers,” some of the most popular cannabis products among women are still classics like flower and pre-rolls, but women are more likely than men to try capsules, topicals and sprays. They are fascinated by the concept of CBD helping them with issues like menstrual cramps, body and muscle pain, and even sensitive skin, but enjoy products with THC as well.

In general, women’s purchases in the cannabis industry end up being more centred towards wellness, but it’s not all about spa treatments and relaxing.

Sex sells, but not in the way you think.

The structure of cannabidiol (CBD), one of 400 active compounds found in cannabis.

There has been a growing interest in using cannabis and CBD for women’s sexual health. Researchers haven’t quite caught up with the science yet, but researchers at the Center for Sexual Health at Saint Louis University think that cannabis and CBD can help women overcome pain and anxiety during sex. Foria Wellness is a brand that sells CBD suppositories and lubricants that help women have a better sex life. Not only are their products seemingly effective, but they provide loads of education to their audience and work with influencers to build their community.

Beauty is Pain.

Being a woman is hard. Or at least, painful. Between walking in heels, getting in an intense workout, and feeling the stress of general life, women end up with quite a few aches and pains. Topicals and bath bombs seem to be leading the way in this area. Celebrity stylists have been using CBD lotions on the feet of starlets before a long night on the red carpet, and more brands are marketing their products to fitness buffs.

Market to specific kinds of women.Skincare is another burgeoning market. Van Der Pop reports that 60 percent of women are interested in cannabis skin care. Again, the science hasn’t quite caught up, but anecdotally it has been shown to have anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory properties when applied to the skin. Women with psoriasis, eczema and other skin troubles are also finding relief with CBD. A bunch of large retail brands have already jumped on the bandwagon and indie brands are starting to pop up as well.

Life is Stressful.

A report from Spate and Landing International found that there has been a 24 percent increase in consumer interest in anxiety. Young people these days are under more pressure than ever, and they are turning to their products to solve it. The American Psychological Association says that 12 percent of millennials are officially diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, so it’s no surprise that anxiety and depression are the fastest-growing search terms associated with CBD.

Does this make me a bad mom?

Being a mom is stressful, and a lot of moms have been toking since before their kids were born, so after the kids are asleep they relax on the porch with a joint. It’s right for them, but the stigma is still there and they can feel it. Over 70 percent of women believe that there is still a stigma attached to cannabis use. The answer is not only marketing to Mary Jane moms but also using marketing to help end the stigma around cannabis consumption.

What do women look for in cannabis brands?

Women use cannabis for different reasons than men, so it makes sense that they would look for different things in a cannabis brand.

“Traditionally, marketing weed to men has either been about projecting fantasy, or appealing to the everyday guy that men feel like they could smoke a bowl with,” Mary Pryor, CEO and co-founder of Cannaclusive, told AdAge. “But women want to know what gets the job done without having to do too much work to know what we’re going to get.”

That means lots of education and support at the customer level. Women are used to a higher level of customer service and will most certainly take their business elsewhere if they feel they aren’t being heard or served effectively.

Women buy things that make them feel good, or items that help them express themselves, so aesthetic is important, too. There was a time in cannabis culture when most cannabis accessories had flames, or skulls, or aliens, and while that may appeal to some women, the majority want a more feminine and streamlined look. Brands like Van Der Pop offer modern designs that will readily fit into the consumer’s decor, and Lord Jones packages their CBD oil with an ornate style that invokes more of a luxury perfume brand than a cannabis product. Women are looking for a product that will look good on their shelf or in their homes.

The Secret? Know Your Audience

The first rule of marketing to women is: don’t market to women.

The absolute best way to reach women is to create authentic content for women, by women, addressing their specific concerns.At least, not women as a mass, general group. Market to specific kinds of women. Like cannabis, women come in many beautiful and exotic varieties, each one more interesting and lovely than the last, and each with their own values and shopping habits. For example, the wellness guru will have different needs from the sun-weathered gardener, who will have different needs from the stressed-out mom with a sore back.

Here are some time-tested generalizations that could help you out, though. The Journal of Business and Management reports that women are more likely to appreciate finer distinctions and enjoy more of a conversational style dialogue. When it comes to problem-solving, women care more about how a problem is solved, and like sharing and discussing it. Similarly, shopping is also a process where women tend to enjoy more interaction and take more pride in finding the best bang for their buck and the best product for them.

According to Bloomberg, you should study women as if they were a foreign market. All groups of women have their own culture, values and even language. The key here is to get to know each and every one of these personas so that you can create a targeted strategy to reach them specifically.

The absolute best way to reach women is to create authentic content for women, by women, addressing their specific concerns. Create a community for them. Formulate products for them that actually work. Hire them, listen to them, hear them and they will choose your brand every time.

The CalCannabis Appellations Project Is About to Spark a New Chapter in Place-Based Branding

By Amy Steinfeld, Jack Ucciferri
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Connoisseurs know that pairing a fine cut of steak with a Napa Valley cabernet sauvignon is a sure winner. But how many are aware that pairing strawberry cheesecake with a certified Santa Cruz Blue Dream cannabis strain creates an equally delicate palatal synergy? Thanks to the California Department of Food and Agriculture’s CalCannabis Appellations Project (“CAP”), premium cannabis regions will soon have the potential to capitalize on such newfound awareness among discerning consumers.

For decades, cannabis connoisseurs have been willing to pay a premium for flower said to have been grown in certain regions or with certain techniques, but because of cannabis’ legal status, supply chains have been opaque. As a result, cultivators of distinct cannabis strains struggled to capture the full market potential of their products. That has begun to shift with implementation of California’s Cannabis Track-and-Trace System. The costs associated with implementation of the METRC1 system have been bemoaned by many in the industry, but there is also tremendous potential value in having the most transparent supply chain in the world. The CalCannabis Appellations Project is the vehicle through which brands will be able to harness that value.

The underlying premise behind the CalCannabis Appellations Project is that the distinctive qualities of a cannabis product are often attributable to where and how the plant is grown. Through this project, CalCannabis is developing a statewide appellations system2 that will allow qualifying licensed cultivators to effectively communicate information about their cannabis crops (i.e., the standards, practices and/or varietals used) through labels, advertisements and other marketing techniques. It will also prevent disingenuous cannabis cultivators from making inaccurate claims about where and how a product is grown, which protects the integrity and value of the appellation.

What is an appellation?

In general terms, an appellation is an identifying name, title or label that can be legally defined and protected. Appellations are most commonly used in the wine industry to geographically identify the origin of grapes in a particular bottle. This place-based identification system comes from an understanding that certain regions have unique environmental and growing characteristics, which result in a product that cannot be produced from other regions even when the same varietals are used. Famous wine appellations or American Viticultural Areas (AVAs) in California include the Napa Valley and Santa Ynez AVAs, and sub-AVAs such as the Russian River Valley AVA, located within the larger Sonoma County AVA.

Recognizing there are also growing regions that produce uniquely distinctive cannabis, CalCannabis is developing a process for:

  1. Establishing an appellation (i.e., identifying regions that produce distinctive cannabis and defining standards, practices and/or varietals that must be used in those regions to qualify for an appellation); and
  2. Qualifying to use a particular appellation once they are established (i.e., determining the cannabis cultivators that can legally label or market themselves as belonging to a particular appellation).

While the state has not released program details, it’s likely that cultivators will have to demonstrate their outdoor-grown cannabis is distinctly unique.3 CalCannabis has until Jan. 21, 2021,4 to establish these processes, but a draft is expected to be released by early January 2020.5 This is an opportunity for cultivators to organize and participate in the process to define and create unique local appellations.

What are the benefits of an appellations system?

Napa wine country
Image: James Faulkner, Flickr

Appellations benefit both cannabis cultivators and consumers. It allows small farmers to capture the value that consumers place on unique and local cannabis products. Allowing for product differentiation through an appellations system will prevent cannabis from becoming a commodity—a situation that could result in indistinguishable products and a single market price for cannabis regardless of how or where it is grown. Thus, an appellations system protects not only local economies and farming communities, but also consumers that care about the origin and growing practices of their cannabis.

A criticism of appellations, particularly in the wine industry, is that they can disincentivize innovation and industry growth when strict growing practices and standards are required to be a part of an appellation. This will be an important consideration as CalCannabis establishes its appellations system.

County of Origin

In addition to setting up an appellations system, the CalCannabis Appellations Project will expand upon current county of origin regulations. Unlike an appellation designation, the county of origin designation is designed to be much more inclusive—it can currently be used on any cannabis product as long as 100% of the cannabis is grown within the designated county.6 Whereas an appellation will communicate information about the quality of a cannabis product and how it was produced, a county of origin designation is more like a “Made In” label. For example, a county of origin designation can be applied to indoor cannabis whereas an appellation will likely only include sun-grown cannabis.

There is also a desire to allow city of origin designations in addition to county of origin designations, which would enable products grown wholly within the political boundaries of a city to further differentiate themselves.7 As the legal cannabis landscape changes nationwide, it may also be important to have a statewide appellation allowing products to be marketed as “Grown in California.

What should cannabis cultivation regions be doing now?

After CalCannabis releases a draft process for establishing an appellation, the next steps will be clarified. However, not everyone is waiting. For instance, growers in Mendocino County have already started to organize.8 The Mendocino Appellations Project divided the county into 11 unique subregions based on regional growing conditions and practices that could potentially be turned into appellations in the future. The goal of the appellations outlined by the Mendocino Appellations Project is to protect cannabis products coming out of Mendocino County and preserve the region’s growing heritage.

A group in Sonoma County is also discussing the establishment of appellations with the hope that it will help differentiate their cannabis and draw attention to the unique microclimate and soil structure in parts of Sonoma County.9 The groups involved in these discussions also believe it will allow cultivators to develop strict growing standards and to protect certain strains, while creating new jobs and encouraging agritourism. Appellations will become increasingly important as sophisticated consumers begin to select quality cannabis that aligns with their preferences.


References

  1. METRC is the third-party-owned software contracted by California authorities to implement the commercial cannabis track-and-trace system “from seed-to-sale.”
  2. Passage of Senate Bill 185 calls for the use of the term “appellations of origin” instead of “appellations.”
  3. Based on comments made during the October 23 Cannabis Advisory Committee Meeting.
  4. Business and Professions Code Section 26063.
  5. Based on comments made during the October 23 Cannabis Advisory Committee Meeting.
  6. Business and Professions Code Section 26063(a).
  7. Based on comments made during the October 23 Cannabis Advisory Committee Meeting.
  8. https://swamiselect.com/mendocino-appellation-project/
  9. https://www.sonomacountygazette.com/sonoma-county-news/cannabis-appellations-the-small-cannabis-farmers-elyon-cannabis.

How to Protect Your Brand From Counterfeiters

By Gail Podolsky
4 Comments

Global counterfeiting is expected to reach $1.82 trillion by 2020.1 Counterfeiting includes, but goes way beyond, fake watches or bogus polo shirts. In fact, no product is safe, including cannabis.

Counterfeiting is insidious; it supports child labor, human trafficking, organized crime, and has been linked to terrorist groups.2 “[C]ounterfeit good sales have been linked to al-Qaeda, FARC, Colombia’s rebel army and paramilitary groups in Northern Island.” 3 The FBI believes that counterfeit goods financed the World Trade Center bombing and the attack on September 11, 2001.4

Counterfeiters and their fake merchandise are typically difficult to locate and remove from the marketplace. Currently, we are seeing a proliferation of counterfeiting in the cannabis industry. Cannabis companies must consider the impact that counterfeit products have on their brand and goodwill. It is vital for cannabis companies to implement strategies to combat counterfeiting.

Typically, companies use trademark laws to combat counterfeiters. However, brand protection for cannabis companies is difficult because trademark laws do not provide the breadth of protection needed to successfully protect and enforce a cannabis company’s brand. Currently, U.S. trademark laws prohibit the registration of cannabis trademarks because selling cannabis violates federal law.5 While the 2018 Farm Bill amended this steadfast rule slightly, it only applies in limited circumstances, i.e., when the cannabis product contains less than 0.3% THC.6 As a result, cannabis companies are forced to seek protection through indirect registration, namely filing for goods and services that are not cannabis-related, such as clothing, publications or medical services. Indirect registrations are not enough to combat counterfeiters successfully.

Fortunately, there is another avenue that cannabis companies should be using to protect and enforce their brands against counterfeiters — obtaining copyright registrations for the company’s logo, product packaging and, if appropriate, company name. Copyright protection extends to a protectable work regardless of whether the copyright is in an illegal work or the copyright owner uses its copyright for an illegal purpose.7 Moreover, if there is pending or prospective litigation, a brand owner may request special handling of a copyright application to obtain expedited processing.8 If the application meets all the requirements for registration, special handling will result in the brand owner obtaining a copyright registration in about a week.9 Trademark registrations, on the other hand, typically take at least five months to obtain.

Once a company receives a copyright registration, the Copyright Act provides unique and important avenues for relief against counterfeiters.10 For example, a brand owner may obtain an ex parte seizure order, which allows the company to enter the counterfeiter’s premises, without notice, and seize the counterfeit products, business records, financial information relating to the counterfeit operation, customer and vendor lists, and bank account information.11 A brand owner may also obtain injunctive relief — a court order prohibiting the counterfeiter from buying, selling, and advertising counterfeit products — and freeze the counterfeiter’s bank accounts.12

People often say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. However, in the counterfeiting context, imitation can be lethal to your company.A cannabidiol (CBD) company recently used its copyright registrations to stop counterfeiters from advertising and selling counterfeit CBD gummies and oils. The CBD company obtained an ex parte seizure order, injunction and asset freeze, and obtained a $5 million judgment against the counterfeiters.13

Litigation is a valuable and effective tool in fighting counterfeiting. It helps protect the company’s goodwill, enhances consumer confidence and increases the company’s revenues. There are other tools that should be used to combat counterfeiting.

Companies must diligently watch their vendors, distributors, and customers for bad actors. Your vendor agreements should include provisions allowing regular audits and inspections. Your distribution agreements should prohibit distributors from selling outside their territory and engaging in price arbitrage. Your customers should be prevented from selling your products in smaller units. Having unique packaging with holograms will also assist in reducing counterfeits as the packaging is harder to replicate. An effective public relations campaign that includes educating your customers and the industry on the harmful effects of buying counterfeit cannabis products is also a very effective tool.

People often say that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. However, in the counterfeiting context, imitation can be lethal to your company. Counterfeit cannabis products can be subpotent, superpotent or contaminated. Having these dangerous products advertised under your brand in identical packaging can have dire consequences.

If you are not currently experiencing a counterfeiting problem, you likely will. It is important to be proactive and find attorneys that have experience combatting counterfeiters in the cannabis industry to help protect your brand and company.


References

  1. Global Brand Counterfeiting Report 2018-2020 – ResearchAndMarkets.com, AP News (May 15, 2018), https://www.apnews.com/ef15478fa38649b5ba29b434c8e87c94.
  2. Colleen Jordan Orscheln, Bad News Birkins: Counterfeit in Luxury Brands, 14 J. Marshall Rev. Intell. Prop. L. 249, 259 (2015).
  3. Id. at 260.
  4. Id.
  5. Examination of Marks for Cannabis and Cannabis-Related Goods and Services after Enactment of the 2018 Farm Bill, USPTO (May 2, 2019), https://www.uspto.gov/sites/default/files/documents/Exam%20Guide%201-19.pdf.
  6. Id.
  7. See, e.g., Flava Works, Inc. v. Gunter, 689 F.3d 754, 756 (7th Cir. 2012); Dream Games of Ariz., Inc. v. PC Onsite, 561 F.3d 983 (9th Cir. 2009); Mitchell Bros. Film Grp. v. Cinema Adult Theater, 604 F.2d 852, 855 (5th Cir. 1979); Big Daddy Games, LLC v. Reel Spin Studios, LLC, No. 3:12-cv-00449, 2013 WL 12233949, at *16–17 (W.D. Wis. Apr. 10, 2013).
  8. Special Handling, U.S. Copyright Office, https://www.copyright.gov/help/faq/faq-special.html (last visited November 20, 2019).
  9. Id.
  10. See 17 U.S.C. § 503(a)(3).
  11. Id.
  12. Id.
  13. See Global Widget, LLC v. A.R.T. Wholesale LLC, No. 1:19-cv-02136, 2019 WL 3281321 (N.D. Ga. May 16, 2019); Global Widget, LLC v. A.R.T. Wholesale LLC, No. 1:19-cv-02136, 2019 WL 3244489 (N.D. Ga. July 18, 2019).