AdAge: Digital

 Latest News - Ad Age
Latest News - Ad Age
Latest news and features from Ad Age

How a major cannabis marketer pivoted during the pandemic

Subscribe to us on Apple podcastscheck us out on Spotify and hear us on Stitcher, Google Play, iHeartRadio and Pandora too. This is our RSS feed. Tell a friend!

As it markets pot to the masses, cannabis company Cresco Labs has often relied on its secret weapon—Mindy Segal, a James Beard award-winning pastry chef who partnered with the company to make a line of cannabis-infused edibles called Mindy’s. The Chicago-based chef has touted the treats at live events, including one called “Flavor Trip,” that was held earlier this year at her restaurant, Mindy’s Hot Chocolate, targeting retail buyers and other influencers in Chicago’s arts community. 

But those and other experiential events that are a cornerstone of cannabis marketing are now impossible with Illinois and other states where Cresco operates under lockdown due to the coronavirus. As a result, Cresco has had to overhaul its marketing. 

“We’ve moved from experiential and education that is more alive to experiential and education that now we are trying to do through content, through digital forms,” says Greg Butler, chief commercial officer at Cresco Labs, one of the largest vertically integrated multi-state cannabis operators in the U.S. 

Butler—who joined the Cresco Labs in early 2020 after stints at big advertisers like Pfizer, Johnson & Johnson and Molson Coors—explains on the latest episode of the “Ad Lib” podcast how the company has pivoted. He also breaks down Cresco’s portfolio approach, under which it has created distinct brands for what he sees as the three distinct segments of the cannabis industry: medical, wellness and recreational.

“We recognize that those consumers are very different in their needs,” he says. “That takes you away from a branded house into a house of brands, where we have different brands for different consumers, addressing different needs.”

As with many industries, the pandemic has been a mixed bag for the cannabis market. While cannabis operators have been deemed essential business in many states where pot is legal, social distancing has meant dispensaries cannot function as normal. Regulations vary by state. For instance, the state of Nevada shut down in-person dispensary visits, but allowed delivery services and later loosened the rules to allow for curbside pickup. In Illinois—where Cresco runs several dispensaries branded “Sunnyside”—regulations allow retail outlets to open, but they must adhere to social distancing rules requiring patrons to be at least six feet apart.

The measures have not dampened demand. Pot shops sold $37 million in recreational weed in April, trailing only the $39 million monthly total in January, when recreational pot first became legal in the state, according to a recent report in the Chicago Sun Times.

Still, the rules have forced major changes at Cresco, which had previously emphasized in-store experiences in which associates would spend a lot of time educating consumers about the newly legal category. “Obviously, with everything going on right now it would be irresponsible for us to do that—to have that many people in our stores,” Butler says. “We’ve really changed our entire business model from in-store browsing to pre-order pick-up, priority pick-up for medical patients, and really eliminated that in-store browsing piece to more of a virtual browsing piece,” he said, referring to website upgrades that include real-time inventory information.

The marketing changes include more digital. That includes sponsored content, such as a deal with Vice. One article is called  “A Guide to Smoking Solo: From virtual smoke sessions to creative indoor activities, here’s how to smoke weed while self-isolating.” The series was sponsored by High Supply, a new brand Cresco recently unveiled aimed at the economy end of the recreational pot market.


With sports still on hiatus, athletes become the new streaming stars

Athletes launch their own live content series as brands renegotiate ambassador contracts to include live content.

John Krasinski's ‘Some Good News’ by the (really good) numbers, and great news for Home Depot, Lowe’s and Walmart: Datacenter Weekly

Plus: Insights from Ad Age Agency Report 2020.

Agency Brief: Creative Humans founder explains how her platform is drumming up work and jobs during the pandemic

Plus, there's a new global body fighting to get agencies paid fairly and Ogilvy's Bottle Rocket makes remote work permanent.

Sports recovery company touted by tennis star Naomi Osaka to air first TV ad in Woods-Mickelson match

Hyperice will debut a 30-second commercial during the showpiece matchup.​​

What marketers can learn from previous economic downturns

Back in March, as the coronavirus pandemic began to wreak havoc on our lives, our economy and our industry, Bradley Johnson, Ad Age's director of data analytics, presciently noted the parallels between the challenges that  brands and the ad community faced after 9/11 and today

Ad Age knows something about tough times: We published our first issue less than 90 days after the stock market crash of 1929. One thing we’ve seen again and again: Remarkable innovation occurs in the worst of times.

All this has happened before

In the depths of the 2007-2009 Great Recession, Johnson dug into Ad Age's archives to analyze the issue of innovation during three of the roughest economic periods in American history: the Great Depression and recessions of the early ’70s and early ’80s. The result was a 2008 Ad Age white paper: “Downtime Opportunity: Marketing and Media Innovation in the Great Depression and Great Recessions.”

A regularly updated list tracking marketers' response to coronavirus

The latest moves brands are making to deal with the fallout, in reverse chronological order. 

Opinion: Brands must embrace sustainability to survive post-COVID-19

'Not possible' or 'not yet' will no longer be viable responses when Gen Z demands change.

Creative Under Quarantine: Terri Meyer delivers on pandemic ads, has ice cream for dinner and scores at CVS

In our series Creative Under Quarantine, we’re asking agency and other creative execs to document their lives in isolation during the coronavirus pandemic—from their new work habits to the mundane or farcical moments that come with being cooped up at home. 

In this installment, New York agency Terri & Sandy co-founder and CEO Terri Meyer sees success under lockdown as her shop continues to deliver campaigns for its clients under crisis conditions (including one that got a shoutout on "Access Hollywood"). But in her downtime, she enjoys the more quotidian victories, like self-made meals and scoring at CVS. 

If you have a quarantine story to tell, get in touch with Ad Age’s Creativity Editor Ann-Christine Diaz at

Video game ad spend soars and Reddit gets an ad school: Friday Wake-Up Call

Welcome to Ad Age’s Wake-Up Call, our daily roundup of advertising, marketing, media and digital news. If you're reading this online or in a forwarded email, here's the link to sign up for our Wake-Up Call newsletters.

Leave a comment