The murky world of social media influencers is providing an outlet for weed companies to advertise their products and services (Wired).
Every industry has its influencers. There are beauty influencers, wellness influencers – and weed influencers.
Weed influencers use social media to post about anything weed-adjacent. Sometimes that’s discussing specific strains, recommending stores in their areas to get paraphernalia or products from, or reviewing equipment or edibles. They tend to be young women and mainly post on YouTube and Instagram.
“They appear to be getting products for free from various shops, and doing reviews and giveaways,” says James Lange, a researcher at San Diego State University who has been following drug use in online videos for several years. “But when you look at the style of videos and the types of people who are doing well, they fit into what you’d expect from just about any other similar content: young, attractive and upbeat.”
Some weed influencers post-confessional videos, like talking about their breakup while smoking a joint, while others offer more straightforward reviews, such as comparing different pipes. Some advocate for more lenient laws and talk about incarceration rates. There are even recorded “
Much like in the influencer-friendly world of beauty, some in the scene are starting to offer their own subscription boxes, where you can get a box of cannabis-related products delivered to your door once or twice a month. The Hippie Butler, one of earliest producers of such services, offers boxes containing grinders, gifts and snacks for munchies. Others have Patreon accounts where fans can sponsor them directly.
One reason weed influencers are on the up is the difficulty of marketing cannabis even in places it has been legalised, including Canada and certain US states. (In the UK, cannabis remains illegal except for specific medical purposes.) In the US, cannabis agencies and companies can’t advertise on TV in states where more than 30 per cent of the population is likely to be under 21. In Canada, adult use products have to be sold in plain packaging, and can’t suggest the promise of a glamorous or dangerous lifestyle. Social media platforms also have their own restrictions on advertising.
“Traditional media and paid advertising are completely out of the picture – no Facebook, no Instagram, no Google ads,” says Jared Mirsky, who runs marketing for Wick and Mortar, a cannabis branding agency. “The laws are continually changing. So there is no one distinct set of challenges which we face, but dozens – so cannabis is one of the most difficult legal products in the world to market.”
Not being able to advertise directly means cannabis companies need to be more creative. “We have to think outside the box, and come up with campaigns that won’t get flagged or negative attention – so staying really smart and educational,” says Olivia Mannix from the advertising agency Cannabrand. “We use influencers with tens of thousands of followers to those with millions of followers, so the brand would pay to have their product in an Instagram post or story, to make it very organic. People don’t like to be advertised to, so when they’re seeing something that an influencer is using, they’re going to want to have that.”
Jonathan, a Canadian influencer who posts on Instagram under @weedstagram416, says that he used to post just about the products he loved but that brands then started coming to him. “As I grew my page towards medical home growing and education, it opened many new doors for brands to come along with me,” he says. “They felt comfortable with knowing exactly what I would deliver, content-wise.”
But it’s not like influencers get a free pass.