How This Agency Accidentally Became a Go-To for Marketing Cannabis to Women

Portland's Ladies of Paradise found a compelling niche

Portland's Ladies of Paradise takes a playful, yet sophisticated approach to marketing cannabis to women. Ladies of Paradise

There’s a fairly wide disparity in marketing sophistication in the cannabis industry. Local retailers, as expected, run the gamut from punny to pretty weird (or wonderful, depending on your point of view). Meanwhile, the likes of MedMen are taking a much more sophisticated, big-budget approach, positioning the brand to more mainstream audiences.

But cannabis marketing has some room to grow up, especially when marketing towards women. That’s where Portland agency Ladies of Paradise found an unexpected opportunity to evolve into a go-to for cannabis brands interested in appealing to women.

“A lot of [brands] were oversexualizing women when we came into the picture,” said the agency’s creative director, Harlee Case. “[W]e wanted people to stop selling cannabis by having pictures of half-naked women ripping bongs.”

Indeed, the approach is counter to some of the brands in the space (like Ignite, for example), which appear to tip their hats to the days of scantily-clad women à la previous campaigns from GoDaddy and Carl’s Jr.

“That’s not [being] a brand,” said Ladies of Paradise’s COO Leighana Lynn. “[The industry] doesn’t need to sexualize women, and there’s a way you can advertise and marketing without doing that.”

The evolution of the agency is a case study in taking advantage of some happy accidents to find a niche and build a tailwind to the next level. In its shortest form, the entire endeavor started in 2017 as a blog featuring content celebrating women in the cannabis industry and connected to the parties they were hosting. The highly artistic aesthetic and unique point of view struck a chord as brands started reaching out, seeking ways to better connect to women.

“We weren’t planning on being a creative agency,” said Lynn. “We were just doing our own thing, and then there was a need.”

“It got a lot of buzz quickly because it was so different than anything else anyone had seen,” added Case, who grew up in southern Oregon and is self-taught in design and photography work.

The agency also as a store by the same name in southeast Portland, which opened last summer in yet another unexpected opportunity for the team.  Lynn, a Northern California native who managed a dispensary for three years before joining Ladies of Paradise, said that they “weren’t even planning on opening a retail store. We were looking for office space and a photography studio.”

The store, which hosted a party during Design Week Portland last month, is a bright, airy, welcoming boutique featuring a majority of products (Lynn estimates around 80%) created by women. The sign outside of the establishment reads “Women. Weed. Fashion.”

“When women walk into the shop, they tell us that these are pieces that they can relate to and want to buy,” noted Lynn.

At present, the agency has six clients—vape pen brand Kandy Pen and cannabis company Cresco Labs are their two largest—and is dipping its toes into package design, content creation, photography and videography. But Case and Lynn can very clearly see where they can make the most significant impact: experiential marketing and developing products.

So far, Ladies of Paradise have run successful cannabis events in Denver, Los Angeles and Portland, Ore., with an eye to expanding their experiential footprint in both scale and geography (specifically, New York).

The company is also focused on its own line of products (including pre-rolls and a soon-to-be-released vape pen) and helping other brands develop business plans to ensure that women are well-represented in marketing.

“Products are going to be huge for us,” said Case. “We’ve been to a lot of investor meetings and would like to see how much of an impact we can make. The future is helping all of these brands how to market to women in an honest way.”

@zanger Doug Zanger is a senior editor, agencies at Adweek, focusing on creativity and agencies.