A Look Into the Evolution of Language in Cannabis Marketing

From slang with racist undertones to more scientific, technical terminology

A woman is taking a drag from a cannabis cigarette
There are certain terms that are deemed offensive or that the industry has just outgrown in this day and age.
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Today’s cannabis brands are captivating consumers through nuanced language, dropping stoner slang in favor of a more refined and technical vocabulary.

As more of the world moves to legalize cannabis and the stigma surrounding its use fades, brands are tailoring their language to better suit the modern cannabis consumer.

While generational cannabis slang will inevitably stick around (weed, pot, reefer, dope), brands that are looking to stand out in the cannabis space are creating new, more inclusive ways to talk about the plant and its effects.

With a growing market and expanding customer base, many brands have found success in moving away from stoner slang to a more scientific or technical vocabulary to describe their products. Referring to the substance in technical terms, THC or CBD rather than “pot” or “ganja” illuminates any negative connotations the consumer may have toward stoner culture and cannabis’ previous illegal status.

Today’s cannabis brands create messaging that is focused on understanding the products effects on the consumer’s mental and physical wellbeing.

Many brands go as far as to not even use the word marijuana in brand messaging, instead opting for its scientific name: cannabis. This shift in the vocabulary can be attributed to racist undertones that cannabis slang carries. For example, the term “marijuana” came to popularity in the American lexicon as a way of demonizing the plant for the purpose of anti-immigration propaganda in the 1930s. By eliminating this negative, racist language, the consumer may develop a positive connection with the brand. By creating an inclusive vocabulary in which to talk about cannabis, we invite new and old consumers into the cannabis space.

Cannabis brands are using science-focused language when talking about their products, referring to the cannabis plant and the cannabinoids in the product. THC and CBD are listed as ingredients rather than the main attraction and part of a holistic product. High-end edible brand Kiva Confections refers to their THC-infused chocolate bar as a “a blend of fresh blackberries and toasty cannabis come together in our dark chocolate to create a unique flavor that lingers on your palate.”

In this case, cannabis is merely an ingredient and not an illicit substance. Breaking down the cannabinoids and explaining the effects that they have on the body eliminates the uncertainty for the consumer and allows them to understand the whole experience. It helps them separate your accurately dosed product from the trauma they experienced when eating too much of a pot brownie in college. By creating messaging that “scientifically” lay out what they can expect from your product, you are giving the consumer some piece of mind that your product is safe and enjoyable.

This change in cannabis vocabulary transforms the overall messaging of the brand, making the product less about the substance and more about the experience the consumer has from engaging with the product. Today’s cannabis brands create messaging that is focused on understanding the product’s effects on the consumer’s mental and physical wellbeing. Brand messaging is now going beyond descriptors like “stoned” or “baked” to describe the overall user experience that the consumer can expect from their product. Highly anticipated brand Beboe talks about one of their concentrate pens as “sparkly yet functional” and goes further to say that “the Inspired Pen is intended for early afternoon enjoyment—right when you need to shed that self-consciousness and get down to creative business.” These brands are selling more than a dime bag; they are selling a curated experience, with directions included.

Not only is the way we speak about cannabis important from a branding perspective, but it is also important for education and changing people’s minds regarding cannabis. Cannabis and its use have evolved over the years, and people’s consumption of cannabis products is driven by more than just a desire to get high. Consumers are using cannabis to treat mental and physical ailments, which were only on the black market before the days of legalization. With cannabis accessibility and quality at an all-time high in the U.S., you do not want to be alienating any consumers by choosing inappropriate language.

These changes in vocabulary are not only important for transcending the boundaries of the cannabis consumer but also in a more practical sense of being able to effectively advertise your product online. With online marketing and advertising, Facebook, Instagram and Google do not particularly like cannabis-related content. Most of the time, they will shut down any marijuana-related advertising. The backend of these platforms are mostly analytical, so they search for marijuana counterculture words, thus associating old stoner slang with negative connotations of cannabis. If you are trying to advertise, it is imperative to stay away from this counterculture language, and you might be lucky enough to even run an ad.

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