The past few years have seen a surge in brands from a wide variety of industries partnering to share and cross-pollinate audiences. Mainstream consumer packaged goods, tech, and fashion brands frequently form temporary alliances to leverage one another in meaningful ways, exchange credibility or coolness, and bask in the mutual “halo effect” that comes as a byproduct of association.
According to David Paleschuck, chief executive officer at Branding Bud Consulting Group, the purpose of brand collaborations is to “combine the positive associations and awareness of the brands, allowing them to offer something new, different, and perhaps even more valuable, compelling consumers to purchase the goods or services with a sense of urgency, often at a greater price.”
In the cannabis industry, which continues to be hamstrung by advertising and marketing restrictions, collaborations that leverage the audiences of multiple entities can be one of the few reliable tools in a brand’s arsenal. But there’s a lot more to it than putting a pair of logos on the packaging and counting your stacks.
“Many cannabis companies think a successful collab is just slapping a celebrity name or brand on a product,” said Ryan Jennemann, CEO of cultivator THC Design. “This is never a successful strategy. Something we’ve learned is you need to seek out a partner who is enthusiastic and willing to go the extra mile.”
Aligned values between collaborating brands are extremely important. If partnering brands are on the same page about the goals and purpose of the collaboration, they stand a considerably better chance of the campaign resonating with consumers.
“If brands don’t share a mission, there is no point in collaborating because it will inherently look and feel forced,” said Sam Campodonico-Ludwig, co-founder and president of sungrown cultivator Aster Farms. “Before we go into the collaboration, I do a deep dive into the company, read up on the founders and mission, research their retail partners, and read product reviews. It’s important to commit wholeheartedly, because this is a small industry and we don’t have time to waste.”
These days, collabs between cannabis companies and adjacent non-cannabis brands are more popular than ever. Cannabis companies are finding significant benefit in partnering to work around their individual limitations and dip into new, related product verticals without shouldering too much risk. Mainstream brands also are determining the reputational risk they once might have incurred by associating with cannabis companies largely has disappeared, though the perception of being risqué remains.
We looked at some of the most successful, well-executed collabs and unpacked why they were impactful—and what others can learn in order to ensure their collaborations succeed.
Stündenglass x Cookies and Dr. Greenthumb’s
Stündenglass has been called “the Rolls Royce of bongs.” The sleek, elaborate gravity bongs have been a hit on Instagram and TikTok for their performative mechanics and have earned their place as a luxury smoking device for the discerning connoisseur.
The brand also has made collaborations a cornerstone of its marketing and sales strategies. Cookies and Dr. Greenthumb’s are among the brand’s flagship retail partners, demonstrating Stündenglass’s astute understanding of both its target market and the optimal distribution channels through which to reach those consumers. Both Cookies and Dr. Greenthumb’s are hot “culture” brands at the heady end of the cannabis spectrum, and given each has a growing dispensary footprint, the bongs get primo positions on the shelves to tempt the kind of high-dollar customers who are prepared to spend $500 or more on accessories.
Miss Grass x Women’s Prison Association
Miss Grass’s partnership with the Women’s Prison Association (WPA) reminds us collaboration can extend beyond selling products and generating hype. Mutually aligned entities coming together around a shared objective is a worthy goal, and in this case the collab raised both funds and the profile of both entities.
The feminine-forward flower brand and the WPA partnered on a campaign to raise awareness about the less-discussed but urgent issue of female incarceration. The campaign featured an all-day text hotline with cannabis scientists, experts, and industry pros answering questions and encouraging conscious consumption. In a single day, 2,000 texts raised $4,566 for WPA.
“It was natural to channel our advocacy into a partnership with the Women’s Prison Association, an organization that supports women who have been incarcerated by providing health, career, and housing services and beyond,” said Miss Grass co-founder and CEO Kate Miller. “The incarceration rates for women are rising two times faster than for men, and we felt this wasn’t receiving the level of awareness and support it deserved and needed.”
Jeeter x Highsman
No brand hit the market harder in 2022 than Jeeter. The pre-roll maker was poised and ready to ride the post-pandemic wave of customers flooding the pre-roll section of stores, and it claimed to sell more than 3.5 million of its fuzzy sticks of saccharine dynamite every month in California alone.
Jeeter is extremely savvy when it comes to limited releases and collaborations. Our favorite was the partnership with fellow piping-hot 2022 brand Highsman, helmed by former National Football League running back Ricky Williams. The football-themed box included a Jeeter XL, a Jeeter Juice live-resin vape, and a pack of Baby Jeeters, all in Highsman’s limited-edition Sticky Ricky strain. The partners also released a limited-edition apparel line to coincide with the box.
Jeeter does limited-presentation boxes very well, borrowing from streetwear and collectible toy culture to create drops that die-hard fans of the brands go nuts over. Collaborating with Highsman allowed Jeeter to leverage Williams’s star power while tapping into a sports audience that overlaps considerably with cannabis culture.
Old Pal x Album
One brand reliably blazing trails for others to follow is Old Pal. Appealing to the kind of toker who would rather listen to psych rock on their way to the coast than hip hop on their way to the club, the brand consistently has used music, fashion, and art to modernize sepia-tinted Americana stoner culture.
Old Pal’s collaboration with surfboard maker Album is a fine example of a brand knowing its audience extremely well. The boards are tasteful, trippy, and alternative to the reliable skateboard decal that has been a staple collab template for alternative brands over the years.
According to Old Pal co-founder Jason Osni, the brands have collaborated on two board drops to date, and demand has been high. Celebrated surf photographer Michael Townsend shot the campaign, and the board designs were inspired by paper cuttings from Old Pal’s agency LAND.
“The whole thing came together super organically from a member of our team,” said Osni. “It made sense because Old Pal really exists in surf and skate culture, even though we don’t point the brand in that direction.
“Collaborations only make sense when there’s a likelihood that consumers are going to be interested on either side, and this partnership with Album definitely fulfills that goal,” he added.
Vibes x Keith Haring
Rolling-paper and blunt-wrap brands are a natural fit for cannabis collaborations, and Vibes has been more active than most in establishing partnerships. Perhaps the most eye-catching collab from Berner’s paper company was with the estate of influential pop artist Keith Haring. The entities paired up to create four collectible tins decorated with signature pieces from the queer artist, distributing the bulk of the highly limited inventory through key smoke-shop partners.
According to Vibes President Matthew Paul, the team are huge Haring fans. When the opportunity arose to collaborate with his estate, they jumped at the chance. “Keith Haring’s legacy in [pop] culture is timeless, and being able to collaborate with his estate and be a steward of his work to our community has been a great honor,” said Paul. “Collaborating with like-minded brands and individuals is a priority of ours, as we firmly believe partnerships allow us to speak to communities we otherwise might not be able to [reach].”
Charlotte’s Web x MLB
Pioneering Colorado-based CBD brand Charlotte’s Web, which kick-started the CBD movement with the help of a child who used the company’s extracts to quiet intractable epileptic seizures, broke new ground last year when it was named the “Official CBD of Major League Baseball.” The collaboration resulted in a new product line called Charlotte’s Web SPORT – Daily Edge, which prominently displays the league’s logo on its packaging. The brand also receives continuing marketing exposure to the league’s American fanbase of 180 million consumers through ballpark activations, events, and media coverage.
“It’s always great to be first, but it’s more important to get it right,” said Bill Morningstar, MLB’s executive vice president of sponsorship sales. “That was really what drove this, making sure we did the education and understood exactly what the product stood for and what [Charlotte’s Web] stands for.”
Watershed collaborations like this play an important role in breaking down lingering stigma and forging a stronger bond between cannabinoids and their application in recovery and performance.
El Blunto x a Bunch of Brands
Some brands are adept at creating partnerships based on the strength of a desirable niche in which they perform well. In the case of Albert Einstone’s popular El Blunto brand, that niche is premium glass-tipped blunts. El Blunto has done a fabulous job partnering with popular top-shelf flower brands like Connected, Alien Labs, and THC Design to use the partners’ sought-after flower in El Blunto’s signature cannagars.
Being able to get some primo Connected nugs in an immaculately rolled blunt with a glass tip is a rare treat, and El Blunto has done an exceptional job of nodding to big spenders with enticing special collabs. In the process, the fledgling brand has grown rapidly, taking its premium smokes beyond California to Arizona, Michigan, and Nevada.
THC Design x Sweet Flower
THC Design has been one of the most active brands when it comes to searching for strong partnerships while leaning into its strength in cultivating high-potency indoor exotics. The Los Angeles brand has formed fruitful collaborations with blunt-wrap brand Presidential, concentrate heavyweight Moxie, and local dispensary brand Sweet Flower. The partnerships allow THC Design to reach new audiences and score more outlets for its considerable crop yields.
“We look for a partner that is excited about the collaboration, willing to engage and do the work, and who aligns with the values of THC Design,” said CEO Ryan Jennemann. “One great example of this is our collaboration with comedian Donnell Rawlings. He works incredibly hard to promote his brand, makes appearances at dispensaries, and promotes it on his social media, podcast, and in the press. Because of his hard work and dedication, the collaboration is a winner.”
Aster Farms x Artet
Among several well-executed collaborations, Aster Farms’ partnership with upmarket infused aperitif brand Artet stands out as one of the classiest pairings on this list. Like the cultivator’s other collabs with Rose Delights and Potli, Aster Farms provided the biomass that was infused into the beverage. The Aster Farms logo found a prominent position on the bottle and throughout the marketing campaign.
“Aster is kind of like a stamp of approval for quality,” said co-founder Sam Campodonico-Ludwig. “We produce some of the highest-quality sustainable cannabis on the market, and like-minded brands such as Rose Delights, Potli, and Artet approached us because of those factors.”
The collab lays claim to being the first live-resin-infused beverage and shows a different approach to leveraging assets to explore new form factors in a low-risk way. “Collaborations are important for broadening our reach,” Campodonico-Ludwig said. “Partnering with non-flower brands allows us to explore new forms and push industry boundaries.”
The Unidad Box by The Box Project
One of the more inspiring cannabis collaborations of late was the limited-edition Unidad Box, a multi-product bundle from a handful of Hispanic-owned brands. Organized by Whitney Beatty and Ebony Andersen of dispensary Josephine and Billie’s, the Unidad brought together Humo, Luchador, Loopy Sanchez, Agua de Flor, La Familia, Dope Flavors, Wyllow, and Naughty Dabs.
The Unidad was the second product produced by the Box Project following the success of the Black Box. Both were sold at social-equity dispensaries throughout Los Angeles and supported by a stream of content circulated by the brands and partnering stores. The collective-content strategy signal-boosted the message, allowing participants to pool audiences in order to spotlight new brands arising from the Hispanic community. The collaboration also helped expose all participating brands to new retailers looking for products created by people of color.
Fidel’s x Carrots by Anwar Carrots
Shant Damirdjian, better known as Fidel Hydro, is a legend of underground, OG Cali weed culture and the creator of the infamous Hash Hole joint (an infused stick of THC dynamite that leaves a striking hole in the middle of the stick). The expert on hydroponic growing techniques recently partnered with streetwear don Anwar Carrots to release a very special limited-edition merch box stacked with product and co-branded goodies.
The Fidel’s x Carrots by Anwar Carrots collab includes two seven-gram jars of Fidel’s flower, a custom Fidel’s x Carrots T-shirt, a striking orange hoodie, a headband, jibbitz charms for Crocs, and an Original 2.8g Hash Hole filled with Rainbow Beltz rosin and packaged inside a 3D-printed Carrots sculpture.
A Venn diagram of Carrots’ fans and lovers of exotic, high-potency weed undoubtedly would reveal enormous crossover, and this fiercely stylish collaboration hit a confident home run in that regard.