Cannabis: The Growing Visual Landscape in the USA

Trends / Realness
Gabrielle Pedro Fredrick
Jul 15, 2021
Associated with the likes of the stereotypical teenage burnouts of the 1970s and 1980s or peace‑sign flashing hippies, cannabis and its industry are growing, and growing fast. Gone are the days of these stereotypes as cannabis begins hitting the US markets for recreational use. According to Business Insider, medical marijuana is legal in more than almost 75% of the United States. Recreational cannabis is now legal in 17 states, with two more to implement legalization later this year; legalization in more states means that we’ll see more marketing of the previously vilified plant and its products.

Those of us in the US are 29% more likely to experience bias based on assumptions about our lifestyle, and cannabis use may be among those suppositions. However, according to our own Visual GPS study, the majority of people (64%) are accepting of or interact with a wide range of people with a variety of backgrounds and beliefs. 
Despite evolutions in the industry, cannabis may still be stigmatized as a narcotic and associated with the negative connotations that come with it (i.e. lazy, irresponsible, or morally unethical), in part thanks to previous public service announcements denouncing recreational cannabis use.

In places like here in Los Angeles, cannabis mass marketing features conceptual or product imagery. There are few images of people using cannabis products – likely due to ongoing local legislation on cannabis advertising regulations and the stigmatization of a drug that is still illegal in some states.

So what does this mean for representative imagery as we navigate what cannabis advertising will soon look like?

This opens up an opportunity for brands to be more diverse in their targeted marketing to better connect to consumers, especially those of the Black and Latinx community, who are prone to stereotypes due to the disproportionate incarceration of these populations during the “War on Drugs.”

People consume cannabis for various reasons and in different settings, and many experience cannabis differently. This ranges from pain relief to sleep management ‑ consuming it in a social setting or using it alone to treat anxiety. Showing those diverse viewpoints will resonate with consumers, who will relate with what they're seeing. Visual GPS finds that almost half of consumers want to see people that look like them and reflect their lives in advertising.

Incorporate variety into visuals depicting the different ways people consume cannabis. Smoking may be the primary form of consumption, but edibles and alternative forms of use continue to grow. Though most marketing is tailored to a younger audience, don’t forget about older consumers. According to Reuters, the use of cannabis by Americans 65+ has grown significantly in the past several years and that age demographic should be included in visual imagery.
Forbes estimates that 2021 will not only see the emergence of nationwide cannabis distribution but at least 24 billion dollars in revenue, and this is before legalization at the national level. Imagine how saturated the market will be if that ever happens? Whoever dominates the market will be the leader in cannabis marketing, have the opportunity to be inclusive of all demographics and define what the landscape looks like. 
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