Monday, May 1, 2017

"Reserve" marijuana shows weed is already using some wine-style marketing

The label was torn; sorry. But note the higher THC.
When marijuana is fully legal, how will it be marketed? For many years people assumed tobacco companies would swoop in, but so far that doesn't appear to be the case.

Instead, marijuana merchants are, for now, taking some cues from their neighbors in the wine industry.

Take a look at the labels to the right. First, there was Black Lime, the marketing name for a strain of marijuana. Now, there's Black Lime Reserve -- it costs more and is more powerful. That's right out of wine's marketing playbook.

This is an outlier. So far it seems that most legal marijuana merchants use marketing techniques more common with spirits than wine: brand recognition of names like OG Kush or Blue Dream.

The Black Lime Reserve. Can you see its Reserveness?
As you can see from these labels, THC percentage can also be a selling point, and boasting higher THC strikes me as something like a whiskey maker selling "cask strength" bottles; wineries that make high-alcohol wines don't usually boast about that aspect.

But there are other ways marijuana producers can and probably will market like wine. To wit:

* Big wine companies have figured out that they need separate product lines for younger and older consumers: hip names for the former, stodgy for the latter. Marijuana producers need more stodgy names because the large market for legal marijuana has a much higher average age than the stereotype. If you don't believe this, go hang out outside a pot club in San Francisco: there are plenty of boomers and even some seniors.

* Marijuana is already marketed by strain, similar to wine grape varieties. Right now there's a proliferation of strains just like there are thousands of grape varieties in the world, but I won't be surprised if a half-dozen emerge as the most famous, the Chardonnays and Cabernets of the pot world. Those grapes don't dominate sales because they're better than others: they dominate because  big wine industry players spent years teaching us to order them.

* The cult of the winemaker does not yet seem to have hit marijuana marketing, but it's an obvious development. Some grower will be anointed as having a green thumb (heh) and brands on which he has consulted will be able to charge more.

* I said "he," but there's a powerful current in wine marketing now of wine made by women sold to women under that basis. I see no reason why that won't work in marijuana.

"Sun grown" is an attempt to reverse the stigma of outdoor-grown pot
* Nobody is selling terroir in marijuana right now. In fact, it's the complete opposite: marijuana grown in a sterile indoor environment costs more than that grown outside. This might always be the case in the U.S. because our market as a whole doesn't really buy the argument for terroir in wine.

But for a small segment of the market, a good terroir argument -- "this was grown on the fabled soils of western Mendocino County, where the combination of foggy cool afternoons and great water drainage lead to a bud so fine and subtle that only connoisseurs can appreciate it" -- will enable producers to charge double the price.

* For the larger market, the main point about terroir for consumers is not vineyard, but county. I remember a successful Napa Valley winemaker telling me he could sell $100 bottles of sake from Napa, even though they don't grow rice there, because it would have the Napa name. Whatever county or region can establish itself as The Napa Of Marijuana is going to reap huge benefits for years to come.

* Speaking of which, scarcity is the No. 1 marketing point for the luxury wine industry, and one that the spirits and beer industries have only recently tried to exploit. It would be an easy one for marijuana: "only two pounds a year are grown of this low-producing strain and most of that is purchased by an anonymous gentleman from Saudi Arabia. This 1/4 ounce is our entire allocation. $600."

* I have found the advent of marijuana-food pairing dinners amusing the way non-oenophiles must find sommelier culture amusing. "With the seared pork chop with capers and olives, we've chosen this long-leafed strain to accentuate the savory umami qualities." But with few restaurants allowing smoking of any kind, sommeliers aren't likely to make a big impact on marijuana sales, yet. However, did you know that in addition to the ins and outs of wine, spirits and beer, Master Sommeliers have to learn how to store, recommend and serve cigars? How 19th century. The Court of Master Sommeliers is good at marketing itself and I wouldn't count on them staying out of the marijuana biz for long.

* I can see a low-THC counterculture emerging just as the low-alcohol movement has happened in wine. It'll be exactly the same: most people won't care, the market as a whole will prefer more THC, but the low-THC people will be both more strident and more eloquent (probably because they've ingested less THC.)

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Zzzz said...

Oddly enough I think that pot may do for tea what it could never do for itself and if marijuana starts getting offered in some first flush and second flush kind of offerings, it could actually raise the profile of tea classifications and by borrowing from it, make it more common parlance. As it sits, that shit's just for serious tea geeks at the moment and I see a lot more similarities between weed and tea than weed and wine.

As a small side note, the CMS hasn't required cigars as part of the exam for some time. The one thing that people will often see at a Master level is dealing with a patron who insists on smoking when it's been banned in the establishment.


jo6pac said...

Great picture on the other link

I think you're on the money on marketing.