Why Are Brands Suddenly Embracing 4/20?

The nation’s attitude towards marijuana is changing, and with that, we’re starting to see more brands let loose and embrace cannabis culture.

Just a few years ago, we were hard-pressed to find a ton of brands acknowledging April 20, a.k.a. Weed Appreciation Day. But this year, major brands like Pepsi, Spotify, and HBO came out in droves to drum up engagement around the big day on Twitter.

Many content marketers still suffer through layers of legal and PR restrictions to get a simple white paper published. So how did these big brands get away with maybe-kinda-sorta encouraging their audiences to smoke weed?

Alec Rochford, CEO of Duby, a social networking app for cannabis enthusiasts and medical marijuana patients, has been particularly invested in this shift of attitude.

“If you think about the fact that almost 10 percent of the country consumes cannabis—depending on what industry you service—you could have a lot of cannabis consumers in [your audience],” Rochford told me.

He pointed to the gradual legalization of marijuana—especially for medical purposes—in the U.S. as a reason why we’re starting to see the media present weed as more acceptable.

“Over the last year, since it’s gone legal in Colorado and few other states, you’re seeing people starting to be open about cannabis that you would never expect to consume it, and I think that that is right in line with brands starting to come out and talk about it,” he said. “And it’s not just brands that are in cannabis, but we’re seeing it with outside brands and a lot of larger brands now. I think that they’re slowly starting to come out.”

Major social platforms are also aiding this trend, with moderators becoming more lax about posts and pages that promote cannabis use. For example, Rochford noted that Facebook and Instagram have started to allow more cannabis businesses to create pages, whereas in the past, they just got shut down.

In fact, if it weren’t for Apple’s ease of attitude towards marijuana use, Rochford could have never launched Duby.

“Apple wasn’t allowing cannabis apps,” he said. For example, Apple kicked MassRoots, an social network app for cannabis users, out of the Apple store for a couple of months. But recently, they were brought back in. “They wouldn’t have allowed us to launch there four months ago, but now they are allowing us.”

Rochford’s app invites anonymous users to “light up” a new Duby in the form of a picture, video, or text post, and pass the message to a designated number of anonymous users nearby. The more influence you have (based on popularity of posts), the more users your message gets passed to. Taking a page from Tinder, Duby users can swipe left to “put out” a Duby and swipe right to keep it spreading across the map.

While Rochford doesn’t plan to monetize his app just yet, he has seen a good deal of brands create accounts on the platform in just the two weeks since it launched. These brands are, of course, mostly marijuana dispensaries like Weed Maps, Stoner Daze, and Bud Puff. But now that brands like Ben & Jerry’s and HBO are comfortable playing up 4/20 on social media, could they one day produce content for an app like Duby?

Down the road, Rochford says he could monetize his app by posting certain brands’ ads in certain locations to target users who might be interested in their products. Given that the app is already accessible to users in Canada, the Netherlands, Jamaica, Guam, the Virgin Islands and the 23 U.S states with medical marijuana laws, there are no shortage of audiences to engage with.

Until that happens, we’ll continue to marvel at how comfortable brands felt to joke about marijuana use on social media. And, oh, did I say brands? I meant police departments.

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Image by Luisma

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