New View: How to Recast the Negative Stigma of the Stoner

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Changing Stoner Stereotypes in the Modern Age

For the ever growing marijuana industry and its fans, changing stoner stereotypes is high on their list. Overcoming stoner stigma, equated with Cheech and Chong-like users who are lazy, red-eyed, hippie-looking and permanently glued to their couch, is what marketing and ad agency pioneers in the weed industry are up against.

For a budding market that was estimated to earn around 4 billion a year in 2014 and that is expected to grow faster than the cellphone industry once it becomes legalized, how does one go about revamping marijuana’s bad image?

Overcoming Stoner Stigma with Targeted Words

It’s all in the wording. Those assigned to the job of changing pot smoker stereotypes in the media agree that using the word “cannabis” instead of “marijuana,” “pot,” or “weed” is a good place to start. Stuck in the criminal sector for so long, the demonization of this plant has seen such an over usage of said words that it needs a makeover. And cannabis, still relatively fresh in its use, evokes something more refined, if sophisticated in today’s world of weed.

Next, overcoming the stoner stigma associated with marijuana usage, means highlighting its extensively researched medicinal effects that enabled it to become legalized in the first place.

Cheryl Shuman, an L.A.-based PR and marketing consultant known as the “Martha Stewart of Marijuana Branding” told Fast Company Design that educating people on the healing use of cannabis instead of treating it as a vice is how popular culture’s perception of cannabis users will eventually shift.

“What we’re building is a Whole Foods type of branding,” Shuman said. “It’s not about getting high or stoned or intoxicated–it’s about an overall sense of wellness, healing, and proper nutrition. If we discovered cannabis or hemp in the Amazon jungle today, it would be heralded as the new superfood.”

It’s not about getting high or stoned or intoxicated–it’s about an overall sense of wellness, healing, and proper nutrition.

Changing Stoner Stereotypes, One Boutique Dispensary at a Time

Aside from the straight forward usage of medical marijuana to relieve the pain and discomfort of cancer and Parkinson’s patients, along with other diseases, its image for recreational and general “feel better” use is what is being explored by creative types in the cannabis industry.

In the future, much of pot´s stigma is going to be recast with the help of really good aesthetics. From regal gold-plated vapes sold at Barney´s to sleek, airy pot dispensaries designed by award-winning architects, the mainstream is slowly, and we mean slowly, starting to view this industry with a sense of legitimacy and cool.

What will the future of cannabis marketing look like? When looking at how soda or beer brands market their products in the U.S., for instance, its curious to note how ad agencies avoid trying to sell beer or soda´s stimulative effects. Instead, ads for these beverages, “trade on aspirations, lifestyle and personal-reward. Alas, “This Bud’s for You” has been taken,” points out Ad Age. The magazine pointed out that one ad agency arranged for the boutique dispensary Headquarters, based in Boulder, to partner with Blackbelly Market, a hip and gourmet restaurant to create a dinner event with cannabis-enhanced dishes featuring goat cheese and pistachio truffles and flat iron steak. Its organizers hope that events like these help create the image that cannabis can be for winners, too.

Finally, getting back to the importance of aesthetic appeal and good packaging, remember that women buy more than 80% of all household and consumer products, according to Adweek. That means the marijuana industry better be sure that all those successful working women who smoke pot, baptized as “stiletto stoners” by Cheryl Shuman, like your cannabis product.

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