This single, loaded line from Richard Linklater’s Dazed and Confused has been quoted thousands of times since the movie’s 1993 release. In it, “Slater” — played by Rory Cochran — is the quintessential “stoner” asking the newbie: are you one of us?

Times have changed since the ‘70s setting of the iconic film. In that particular context, being “cool” would mean that you “toke the reefer.” Puff the cheeba. Smoke pot. But today, being “cool” can mean a lot of things. And being someone who uses some form of cannabis? That can mean a lot of things, too. The diversity of cannabis consumers is growing, maturing an audience that is increasingly complex. And that’s throwing the industry quite a curveball when it comes to marketing.

With widespread legalization slowly advancing this still-young market, cannabis brands and marketers are left to navigate a deeply complicated culture. This newly legal commodity comes tangled in a storied history, rife with sideways stereotypes and classically simplified tropes. The ideas of who we’re speaking to and how to speak cannot be drawn from the one-dimensional representation of potheads past…

Cannabis Branding Do’s & Don’ts Are Not One-Size-Fits-All

Cannabis brands taking cues from the classic “pothead stereotype” are likely to run into a few problems. For one thing: if it’s obvious to you, it’s going to be obvious to hundreds of other entrepreneurs. So, simply using some iteration of a “pothead aesthetic” is going to make your brand look like everyone else. Well — not everyone else. But certainly a lot of other brands.

Luckily, a growing number of cannabis consumer audiences continue to emerge. That means there are niches, spaces your brand can more fully occupy without turning into white noise. As with any diverse audience, the more you learn about your particular target market, the better your messaging will be at reaching them. And in this case, not every audience segment will be the tie-dye-loving “hippie type” that many entrepreneurs think of first.     

That being said, there will certainly be some groups with whom this approach resonates. But they are not the entirety of the market. And, even more importantly, using what I’ll call a “tie-dye tactic” should be done consciously and delicately, because audiences have become increasingly good at picking up on it when parts of their culture are being taken and co-opted to sell to them. And if you think back to the hippie culture that inspired this whole stereotype….they’ve been pretty wary of corporatism and “the man” since the very beginning. It’s kind of their thing.

Just Be Yourself

Businesses in this emerging market would do well to remember a key idea that is applicable to any brand on the path to finding its identity….

Work from the inside out, and not the other way around.

Audiences today are more savvy than ever before. They respond to brands that are genuine. And that means you shouldn’t draw your identity and style from external sources, but from what your company is really all about. The only way a bunch of peace signs and day-glo branding make sense is if your business is really aligned with that aesthetic. Are you representing your true points of distinction, or what you think it should look like? If you can find what makes your brand different, that is much more compelling than trying to be like everyone else.

So, maybe a “tie-dye tactic” isn’t for you…. But you’re also not sure what tactic is for you. Or how to find your audience. Or how to approach them. Well, that’s okay…because we do. And we can help. So when your audience asks, “Are you cool, man?” — you’ll know exactly what to say.

Greg Ricciardi

is the President/CEO of Chronic. He likes cats, tats and coming through doorways really, really fast.

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