Cannabis culture in California has become more normalized since the state officially legalized recreational marijuana use in 2018. The state has seen a growth in weed dispensaries, along with cannabis-themed pop-ups and restaurants where THC is the main draw. But a new pop-up in Los Angeles, marketed as a dispensary, didn’t offer customers weed or CBD—it only served dairy.
California Milk Advisory Board, a marketing board of the California Department of Food and Agriculture, opened a dairy “dispensary” as part of a new strategy that encourages people to, well, consume more dairy. The group, which markets products with the Real California Milk label, opened the California Dairy Dispensary pop-up among real weed dispensaries on Abbot Kinney Boulevard in Venice on Feb. 22.
The daylong stunt, which was free and open to the public, was modeled after a traditional dispensary with a spread of curated, upscale dairy treats. The activation had “dairy docents,” brand ambassadors who offered guests items like prerolled ice cream “joints,” “strains” of different cheeses, flavor-infused yogurts and “microdosed” butters that patrons could drip melted, flavor-infused butter from CBD-esque vials onto popcorn. The activation also offered guests branded to-go bags filled with the items that were served.
California Milk Advisory Board worked with agency Deutsch LA to produce the activation, which stems from a campaign they launched in fall 2019 themed around dairy making people extremely happy. The campaign kicked off with a psychedelic ad titled “Enter the Golden State,” which depicts people eating products like yogurt and grilled cheese, and being taken to a euphoric state surrounded by heightened California environments that include talking squirrels and dancing bears. The campaign doesn’t acknowledge people who might not be able to consume dairy products for health-related reasons.
The teams arrived at the idea of dairy enhancing one’s mood based on consumer research. Deutsch LA’s strategy team in 2019 conducted a study of 3,000 Americans (750 for each generation from boomer to Gen Z) asking them to rank 40 items like food, media and people as good or bad on a scale of 1 to 5. Dairy was “high” on the lists for each generation, according to Deutsch LA.
Michael Freeman, vp of advertising for California Milk Advisory Board, said the campaign is meant to show dairy’s “mood-enhancing quality” and address the “emotional connection” people might have with dairy, while also nodding to the fact that the state is known for other all-natural products known for enhancing one’s mood.
“This particular activation takes it to the extreme. It capitalizes off cannabis culture in California,” Freeman said. “We’re mocking cannabis culture in a way, saying the only CBD you need is ‘California-based dairy.’ We think this was a clever way to make a point that if you want to feed your heart and soul, you don’t need drugs—how about a gooey grilled cheese instead, which is legal in all 50 states?”
Reframing CBD as “California-based dairy” was one of multiple slogans California Milk Advisory Board used to riff off of cannabis culture and marketing. The group promoted the activation weeks before the launch with colorful out-of-home ads that also included phrases like “California’s best edibles” with imagery of cheese, “The mood enhancer that’s legal in all 50 states” with ice cream and “The only thing we smoke is gouda,” a sign that was also placed outside the entrance of the pop-up.
According to the brand, the six-hour stunt drew more than 500 people who RSVP’d via Eventbrite. The brand also tapped reality TV star Stassi Schroeder, of Bravo’s Vanderpump Rules, to attend and promote the activation with a sponsored Instagram post. The brand is monitoring the success of the activation through social chatter, but ultimately its goal was to spark reaction—positive or negative.
Brett Craig, CCO of Deutsch LA, said the stunt was meant to spark reactions and that both teams knew polarization would be inevitable.
“If you’re not stimulating any reaction then you probably haven’t done anything worth it. You have to accept your idea is worth remarking about; that’s better than being bland and down the middle,” Craig said. “Ultimately, we wanted to create some word of mouth and we wanted to be newsworthy. We wanted to create something you feel like you have to comment on.”