Micro-influencers: The key to cannabis marketing


(Photo by Ramille Soares on Unsplash)

Weed is legal in Canada, and the floodgates are open for marijuana companies all over the country as they vie for market share. The multi-billion dollar industry has started to make its way into the lives of the average consumer, creeping its way out of the dark basement that was the illegal pot industry and into the front-yard loud and proud. When it comes to marketing pot, the playing field has yet to be determined – regulation is strict and companies are all dipping their toes into advertising.

While the Cannabis Act prohibits the promotion of cannabis and related products and services, it doesn’t mean that brand awareness is a lost cause. There may be a key to cracking the nut that is advertising a pot brand, and micro-influencers could be the way forward.

But, what is a micro-influencer and what can they do for weed brands?

Micro-influencers are an effective way to reach an engaged, niche audience

A micro-influencer is essentially a social media personality with less than 30,000 followers. They have curated a following of a highly engaged audience, most likely in a niche market. Their audience trusts them – micro-influencers aren’t celebrities, after all. They’re simply….super popular.

From a psychological stand-point, the life of a micro-influencer is much more “attainable” looking. Not only that, but users are so engaged with the micro-influencers they follow, that when a product gets promoted by a micro-influence, it acts more like a recommendation from a friend rather than something being pushed by a celeb.

Plain and simple, micro-influencers are effective. According to Medium, micro-influencers drive 60% higher engagement, are 6.7x more cost-effective per engagement, and drive 22.2% more weekly conversations than the average consumer.

Micro-influencers can simply wear a brand or participate in something and their followers listen. Meaning, if a micro-influencer only wears Aurora Cannabis gear, chances are they’re followers will take note and turn to an Aurora product if they’re looking to buy cannabis. This small placement in the life of a micro-influencer may be one way to legally “advertise” weed.

Let’s keep exploring…

When it comes to cannabis advertising, know what’s legal and what’s not

Before you do any advertising for weed or products supporting the consumption of weed, you want to be in the know of what can and cannot advertised in terms of the Cannabis Act:

The Cannabis Act would prohibit the promotion of cannabis, cannabis accessories or services related to cannabis, including (but not necessarily limited to):

  • By communicating information about its price or distribution;
  • By doing so in a manner that it is reasonable to believe could be appealing to young persons;
  • By means of testimonial or endorsement;
  • By means of the depiction of a person, character or animal (real or fictional); or
  • By presenting it or any of its brand elements in a manner that associates it or the brand element with a particular way of life (e.g. one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring).

Activities such as broadcasting, inducements, and packaging and labelling would also be largely restricted, except as expressly authorized under the Cannabis Act.

Nevertheless, the Cannabis Act would carve out some key exemptions with respect to:

  • Informational and brand-preference promotions, as prescribed;
  • Brand element promotions on non-cannabis products, as prescribed; and
  • Point of sale promotions, which would be limited to indications of price and availability.

For example, you could use a micro-influencer wearing a branded product (like a Tweed t-shirt while doing something fun), but you couldn’t have them smoking a joint and telling their audience about how much they enjoy Tweed’s cannabis. The Cannabis Act forbids testimonials or endorsements, but being a fan of a pot brand is not illegal.

Proceed with caution when it comes to marketing cannabis

Facebook, Instagram, and Google currently do not prohibit promoting cannabis on their platforms. Things like boosted post or paid Google ads, for example, are a big no for now.  While micro-influencers are a way around this, somewhat, it can be tricky.

The Cannabis Act restricts advertisers from using regular forms of advertising, such as testimonials and endorsements. There is one slight exception, under Section 17 (1) (e):

Exception — brand element on other things

(6) Subject to the regulations, a person may promote cannabis, a cannabis accessory or a service related to cannabis by displaying a brand element of cannabis, of a cannabis accessory or of a service related to cannabis on a thing that is not cannabis or a cannabis accessory, other than

(a) a thing that is associated with young persons;

(b) a thing that there are reasonable grounds to believe could be appealing to young persons; or

(c) a thing that is associated with a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring

This makes the water very murky, and means that you want to be working with very professional influencers and an agency that can help you understand what is okay and what isn’t. It’s clear that anything you do will have to appeal to those over 19 years of age, and it’s important to not glorify the use of marijuana as a lifestyle.

So, where does that leave us?

Cannabis companies can use micro-influencers to increase brand awareness

At a high-level, micro-influencers are a great way to drive brand awareness. Given the regulations of the Cannabis Act, it would be iffy to use influencers to drive conversions, unless you’re a company that is educational in nature or selling products that aren’t linked directly to recreational consumption.

It doesn’t matter if you’re new to the market or a massive company in the weed industry. Micro-influencers work for both. Companies can get their name out there when talking about education, or leverage tactics such as merchandise, newsletter sign-ups, and other upper funnel brand awareness efforts. I like to think of micro-influencers as the perfect mix of content marketing, social media marketing, and paid advertising. It’s the best of all worlds.

Plus, you can work with niche micro-influencers who have an audience that would make sense for you to target. It’s also much cheaper to use micro-influencers, so it’s good way to try influencer marketing and take some risks. Lastly, you can start to build a relationship with a micro-influencer as they also start to grow and become more popular.

If you are thinking of using micro-influencers, definitely consider using an agency or working with a tried and tested professional micro-influencer. There are many agencies that help connect brands to micro-influencers, and using an agency helps protect both the brands and the influencers.  As the weed space continues to be defined, it’s best to call in the experts who know how to navigate the space.

Micro-influencers can change the way we think of cannabis

It’s not often said but we all think it: Cannabis doesn’t have the best rap. When we think of weed, we think of the “stoner pit” in high school, the skunk smell that comes from the apartment next door, or the stoner boyfriend with dreads we dated in university that we met in philosophy class who pretty much failed out because he was, well, stoned all the time.

Let’s be real: while weed is slowly getting a better reputation, people are still terrified. Functional stoners have remained hidden, even with legalization around the corner. Weed was (and still is, as of today) an illegal “drug” and well, you had to buy it from drug dealers or dispensaries that keep getting raided by cops. You’d get fired from a job if they knew you smoked pot, and you definitely didn’t want your parents knowing.

Now, it’s not so bad. Functional, average pot smokers are coming out and saying “Hey, this is something I do.” And people are slowly taking note. But, it’s a challenge cannabis company’s face – how do we change the reputation of something that was illegal and stereotyped and make it as cool as sipping on a beer or whiskey on the rocks? How do we essentially rebrand weed as a whole, while branding our company?

This is why micro-influencers are so key. They have an audience of people who trust them, look up to them, and want to be them. When they post about smoking weed or their experience, people will listen. Not only will they listen, followers will identify with it, want to know more, and slowly start to dip their toes into educating themselves and changing their perception of marijuana.

The future of both cannabis and micro-influencers are about to be defined

It’s both exciting and nerve-wracking to watch two new industries merge at the same time, but that’s what makes it work so well together. Both cannabis and micro-influencers are disrupting the norm and changing the way the marketing game is played.

The bottom line is that consumers love the people they follow on social media. The new norm of endlessly through Instagram feeds and tapping through Stories makes for the perfect environment to knock on the brains of an active audience.

People are curious about weed – that much is true. Now that week is legal and brands are competing for space, micro-influencers offer a unique chance to get a toe ahead. Why not try it?




2 thoughts on “Micro-influencers: The key to cannabis marketing

  1. Craig Nowak says:

    Hey Sam, To keep it simple I was going to just hit up the micro influencers directly and provide them a few Smoke Erasers (SmokeEraser.com), show them the site to read and see all the options, and just tell them very briefly we are launching, “please enjoy these. Was just hoping for a quick review, mention, or even formal and endorsed exposé maybe if you really enjoy them” or something like this. But you really emphasize linking up with an agency. Would my way work or Im being just naive here?

    • Samantha Durnford says:

      Hi Craig – Good question! Your way would work if you do your research and choose influencers who would want to review your product. I would ask them for a review or mention before you send it, and chances are they’ll be upfront on whether or not your product is a good fit. Aside from a review, you could ask “I was wondering if I sent you a product, would you post a story and an image in your feed and @mention our product?”.

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