As cannabis brands around the country grapple with legal woes in advertising their products, one company has found a way to reach millions—while they’re already high.
Wikileaf, a price-comparison app for the legal cannabis market, is running an in-flight ad on Virgin America’s domestic routes with the app’s commerical playing on every seatback with a screen. The campaign, which began in mid-June, runs through mid-September. Wikileaf CEO Dan Nelson says it’s expected to reach nearly 8 million passengers.
“We wanted to get somewhere more mainstream,” Nelson says. “We had ads in various magazines and online places where it’s cannabis-focused, but we wanted some out-of-the-box ideas.”
Inventive advertising is a necessity for an industry boxed in by legal statutes and corporate policies. What was supposed to be the first televised cannabis ad, in 2015, never made it to air when Denver’s ABC affiliate cited legal concerns. Since the federal government regulates airwaves—and marijuana is still illegal at the federal level—the laws surrounding television ads are unclear. Many states do clearly bar advertising of cannabis and alcoholic products within 1,000 feet of a school.
Corporations are also wary of the backlash. Nelson says Wikileaf used to promote its blogs on Facebook, but in 2016 the platform stopped allowing drug companies to promote posts.
The Apple App Store has had strict rules as well. Previously, apps in the store could review strains and show photos, but not show real-time prices at legal dispensaries.
A good relationship with an app reviewer eventually helped Wifileaf break that barrier, says Nelson, and it became the first cannabis app on the Apple store to show prices.
Even Virgin America, where Wikileaf is currently advertising, included a clause in the contract barring the app from mentioning the airline (a social media search revealed on which airline the company was advertising).
The ad shows a woman packing for an upcoming trip —clothes, makeup, shampoo, electronic devices. “And the biggest decision of them all, should you bring your cannabis?” the narrator asks. The obvious answer is no, and this PSA/Wikileaf ad hopes to discourage that behavior while encouraging potential customers to download
the app once the flight lands.
“We’re trying to go mainstream,” Nelson says. “Grab people who aren’t your normal cannabis purchaser.”