There may have been no better launching pad for Jerry Garcia’s cannabis line than the Outside Lands festival in San Francisco and its toker-friendly section called Grass Lands. The annual three-day event at Golden Gate Park was the largest gathering in the country, as of 2019, to allow weed sales and on-site consumption.
But the coronavirus obliterated live events in 2020 and, with it, any plans that Outside Lands’ sponsors like Holistic Industries had to produce experiential activations this past summer.
That meant Holistic, the multi-state cannabis powerhouse behind the Garcia Hand Picked brand, had to pivot its marketing plan away from the famous (but canceled) music fest.
What the company has come up with instead is an Airstream trailer straight out of a Grateful Dead song that will tour California beginning next month. After that, it will make its way—”Truckin’” some might say—across the country with likely stops in Michigan, Pennsylvania and Washington D.C., among other areas. (Potential tagline: “What a long, strange trip it’ll be.”)
The brand’s execs ran a contest to see who would be piloting the vehicle, decked out in psychedelic colors and named Bertha after one of the Dead’s popular tunes. The gig’s requirements included being “a good human with a heart of gold,” possessing an “energetic and creative spirit.”
The winner, chosen from about 100 video applications, is a San Francisco resident and longtime Deadhead. (She sports a tattoo of Jerry’s right hand, complete with his partially missing middle finger, a motif that’s often used in Garcia Hand Picked packaging and merchandise.)
“We wanted to do something Covid-safe that would get attention and launch the brand in a style that would be very unique to the cannabis industry,” said Kyle Barich, Holistic’s CMO and former CEO of Omnicom’s CDM health division. “It’s a tough time for job hunting, and we got some incredible videos from very talented people, probably the most overqualified group you could imagine.”
Bertha will dock outside cannabis dispensaries where Garcia Hand Picked is sold, providing entertainment with music via a “wall of sound” and T-shirts and swag made from Garcia’s artwork.
Holistic, working with indie agencies Garden State Greenhouse and Candy and Flowers, isn’t the only company to hire roving brand ambassadors. In fact, the vertically integrated cannabis brand is taking a page from marketers who have latched onto the tactic both recently and historically.
In a partnership with the National Parks Foundation, Michelob Ultra put out a call in September for a “chief exploration officer” to visit the country’s parks for six months and document their adventures on social media. Planters continues its “Peanutter” program, where college students hit the road in 26-foot-long Nutmobiles, and similarly, Oscar Mayer puts “hotdoggers” behind the wheel of its iconic Weinermobile fleet.
In other marketing around Garcia Hand Picked, which has been developed closely with the late guitarist’s daughter Trixie and the rest of his family, Holistic plans to debut radio, out of home, programmatic, website and social programs where the law allows. (Cannabis brands are still navigating complex, conflicting guidelines for advertising, depending on the medium and the geographic location).
Garcia Hand Picked, with old-school strains in prerolled joints and THC-spiked gummies shaped like guitar picks, launches into a cannabis market that’s already packed with boldface names. Even Garcia’s former bandmate, Mickey Hart, has namesake weed on the market, as do many other musicians, artists and entertainers (Snoop Dogg, the Bob Marley estate, Willie Nelson, Jim Belushi, Seth Rogan, Cypress Hill’s B Real, Chelsea Handler and Jay-Z, to name a few).