Why CBD Marketers Are Turning to Endorsements to Get Their Message Out

Tactic is proving effective in promoting the non-intoxicating products

Medical Marijuana's offerings include a CBD product derived from a plant called humulus with no THC at all.

As marketers work to counter the perception that marijuana is only for potheads, there’s a similar battle being fought on the CBD front—even though the product doesn’t get users high.

More formally known as cannabidiol, CBD is usually derived from hemp or marijuana and has only trace amounts of THC (the psychoactive element that gets people stoned). Even when THC is barely present, CBD products are non-intoxicating and are mostly used for health and therapeutic purposes.

Products range from skin products to edibles and even beverages. Coca-Cola is reportedly in talks with Canada’s Aurora Cannabis to develop drinks containing CBD. “We are closely watching the growth of non-psychoactive CBD as an ingredient in functional wellness beverages around the world,” Coca-Cola spokesman Kent Landers told Bloomberg News. 

CBD products are legal in all but four U.S. states (Idaho, South Dakota, Nebraska and Kansas) and available in several other countries as well. But marketing the products has been a challenge, one that brands are answering with endorsements at a time when traditional consumer media, like print, radio and TV, generally frown on any type of cannabis advertising.

“Since I’ve started taking CBD, it’s helped a lot,” says former Kansas City Chiefs fullback Christian Okoye in an endorsement for CBD products sold by Medical Marijuana Inc. Okoye earned the nickname the Nigerian Nightmare when he was in the NFL, but breaking tackles led to multiple injuries and a dependency on sleeping aids and over-the-counter painkillers—until he started taking CBD.

“I sleep a lot more than I used to,” he says in his testimonial, “and I can go out and run without issue. No more pills.”

Medical Marijuana—whose offerings include a CBD product derived from a plant called humulus with no THC at all—has also enlisted the support of Nick Lowery (New York Jets, Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots), the Olympic gold medalist Amy Van Dyken and Baseball Hall of Famer Goose Gossage.

The company’s endorsement efforts are augmented by an army of 60,000 salespeople, so-called brand ambassadors, who knock on doors “Avon calling” style to spread the word throughout the U.S. and Europe.

Even as its marketing evolves, the CBD industry continues to expand. Matt Karnes, founder of GreenWave Advisors, estimates revenue at roughly $500 million last year and projects it will increase to $3.2 billion by 2022. “There are about 25,000 products with some kind of hemp in them,” he says.

Lawmakers are mulling whether to make hemp farming legal in the U.S. at the federal level. If that happens, says Karnes, the CBD industry will grow even more.

This story first appeared in the October 1, 2018, issue of Adweek magazine. Click here to subscribe.