Recreational Marijuana Use Is Now Legal in California. Here Come the Ads

MedMen takes over Whisky a Go Go

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Harold, Kumar, Cheech, Chong, Snoop Dogg, those hapless dudes from Pineapple Express. These famous folks, both real and cinematic, are out and proud pot smokers.

But what about your neighbor, your co-worker, your grandma?

MedMen, the largest retailer of legal marijuana in Southern California, aims to show the breadth of modern cannabis customers with its current advertising campaign dubbed “Faces.”

And for a high-profile splash, so to speak, the brand is wrapping the famous Whisky a Go Go nightclub on the Sunset Strip with a number of ads—in what may be the largest-ever outdoor cannabis display.

The campaign, which launched last week, comes as California’s legalized recreational marijuana sales kicked in on Jan. 1.

“This isn’t about stoner culture,” said B.J. Carretta, MedMen’s CMO. “We want everyone to see that there are plenty of uses for cannabis and CBD, and that it’s super relatable no matter who you are or where you come from.”

The Sunset Boulevard display, which will run for at least another week, gathers a number of images that MedMen had been showing in its marketing last fall, featuring subjects as diverse as an 80-year-old Santa Ana woman who uses cannabis for pain relief and a young social scientist who eases her chronic insomnia with the state-legal drug. The point is to “get up close in person and show some pure raw emotion,” Carretta said.

Simple taglines printed across the photos include, “Heal. It’s legal,” and “Relax. It’s legal.” The ads, created by a small in-house team, can be seen from both driving directions along the iconic Sunset Strip. The Whisky often sells that space to record labels promoting their latest releases.

MedMen had been searching for outdoor space in various cities around the region in the run-up to Jan. 1. As cannabis marketers often learn, making media buys proved difficult even if the creative itself tries to bust stereotypes. There are legal restrictions on such advertising, along with a continuing stigma as the legal pot industry tries to establish its own brands and mirror traditional consumer packaged goods marketing.

“We had a really big potential space near the 405, and we were all the way down to negotiations,” Carretta said, “and somebody changed their mind.”

MedMen, which has four local dispensaries and two more opening within weeks, spent “six figures” for the Sunset Strip billboard. Its “Faces” campaign has included more than two dozen outdoor ads, plus print in publications like LA Weekly, OC Weekly, Angelino and Paper magazines, along with wraps on commercial vehicles. There’s also been digital outreach, grassroots programs in about 50 nightclubs in Los Angeles and Orange counties, and a content partnership with Leafly and Vice.

California voters passed Prop. 64 allowing the legal sale of cannabis for recreational purposes, and according to the Green Market Report, sales revenue is expected to top $15 billion a year (bigger than Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Nevada combined) and support between 80,000 and 100,000 jobs.

“The growth potential is great,” Carretta said, “and the advertising side, no matter the hurdles, is an investment for us and we’re all in. But we’re writing this book as we go here.”

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@TLStanleyLA T.L. Stanley is a senior editor at Adweek, where she specializes in consumer trends, cannabis marketing, meat alternatives, pop culture, challenger brands and creativity.