The PR Police Power of Self-Awareness During a Pot Festival

Effective PR requires two critical elements: knowing your audience and the ability to accept reality. Too often brands, celebrities and companies misidentify customer sentiment and lose any opportunity to create good will by being tone deaf, arrogant, or dishonest. (Or, in the case of Lance Armstrong, all three.)

So kudos to the Seattle Police Department, which—as we reported last week—implemented a uniquely audience-specific, creative and realistic Twitter campaign in anticipation of last weekend’s very public Hempfest. The celebration came on the heels of a ruling that legalized marijuana in the state of Washington last fall.

Knowing the penchant stoners have for snack foods, the Seattle Police Department handed out 1,000 free bags of Doritos sporting stickers informing participants that they shouldn’t drive while high or give weed to minors and—oh yeah—don’t forget to have fun, either. This isn’t polished marketing Geico green lizard PR. This is true public relations outreach. Here is the message the Seattle PD conveyed: We get you.

The Seattle Police Department had enough self-awareness to realize that many at Hempfest would perceive its presence as a demonstration of government authority—which, of course, it was. That, after all, is their job. However, instead of playing into the negative stereotypes of baton-wielding, pepper-spraying, inhuman droids, the Seattle Police executed PR genius by levering the power of humor, civility and common sense based in reality. And it’s hilarious.

Doritos, of course, is totally copasetic with being associated with the stoner diet. In many ways choosing Doritos, which makes the taco shells used in many Taco Bell products, proves the Seattle Police Department had done its homework. Taco Bell is to stoners what Starbucks is to yuppies. It’s their cultural and spiritual center. A place to meet, eat and be complete. But we’re guessing the Seattle police already know that, too.

If Seattle makes a bid for the 2024 Olympics, which looks possible, the city should definitely tell this story to the world. It just may be international public relations gold.