Without Traditional Advertising, Cannabis Brands Turn to Fan Merch

Smart merch and customer loyalty are what drives guerilla-style advertising.

Image: Visual Generation / Shutterstock.com

Promotional merchandise, popularly known as “merch,” is a brand extension that up-and-coming cannabis brands cannot afford to ignore.

One of the many obstacles for cannabis brands in the commercial market place is limited options for traditional advertising. Classified as an adult-only product, cannabis suffers similar restrictions to cigarettes or alcohol—and those restrictions vary from legal state to state, and also by local regulations.


For instance, in late November a California judge in San Luis Obispo County ruled billboards advertising cannabis should be restricted to a radius of fifteen miles away from state and interstate highways. The ruling came after cannabis billboard advertising became prevalent in many areas with high volumes of traffic.

Judge Ginger Garrett found that the California Cannabis Bureau (CCB) and its Director Lori Ajax had “exceeded their authority in promulgating the advertisement placement regulation,” when interpreting advertising provisions outlined in Proposition 64. Ajax stepped down from the CCB, in the wake of the decision.

“With the advertising being so limited, merch is very helpful. It’s almost like re-living the Marlboro Days, or the days when [tobacco advertising] became kind of frowned upon right? When the merch meant a little bit more because it was risqué, or that it was just a little bit different. Not everyone sees it,” explained Amanda Brenneman, chief executive officer at Creative Cannabis Promotions (CCP).

“So, in the beginning, everybody wanted to share designs that had a cannabis leaf, right, because it was normalized,” she said. “It was okay. It was ready. Now we work with so many different companies that are in multiple states; a lot of them [want promotional] programs that we put together.”

Arizona-based CCP is a one-stop shop for promotional product, ranging from hemp-infused lip balm (very popular at pre-pandemic trade shows) to trade show enclosures, and everything in between.

Brenneman said giveaway items like lighters are still great for in-store promotions, online freebies, or inexpensive impulse purchases; customers use them daily and will repeatedly see your logo or messaging. Developing a design strategy, she said, brings extra “swagger” to your line of merch.

Another option is branded retail lifestyle products featuring great graphics and/or clever messaging. T-shirts, containers, fashion bags, baseball caps, and many other items appeal to consumers; especially the 21 to 35 year old demographic that uses brands to define their identity and show personal style.

“Let your merch work for and highlight your brand.”

Amanda Brenneman, CEO, Creative Cannabis Promotions

Musicians and music marketers have known this since bands have been on the road; authentic, vintage T-shirts from the early days of rock and roll regularly retail from specialty retailers for thousands of dollars.

So, it’s maybe no surprise that several celebrity cannabis brands go all-in with their merch. In California, where Brenneman says cannabis companies bring their branding A-game, rap and rock are well-represented by several cannabis brands.

Retail dispensary chain Cookies, owned and founded by rapper Berner, sells enough promotional retail merch to have a separate store space adjacent to its Melrose Avenue location in West Hollywood, California. Customers can choose from Cookies-branded hoodies, outerwear, urban wear, messenger bags, stickers, baseball caps, slouch hats, and dozens of T-shirts. Cookies logo is simple and sweet—and known primarily to its clientele and other insiders, which adds some secret flair.

Dr. Greenthumbs, the retail dispensary chain in California owned and founded by rapper BReal (with group Cypress Hill) offers consumers, collectors, and music fans limited edition sneaker contests; collectable T-shirts (the latest celebrates the Los Angeles Lakers win in the NBA Championship); branded glassware; and many choices from its “Insane” line of logo-branded clothing.

Cannabis product brand 22Red is owned and founded by musician Shavo Odadjian, the bassist from metal band System of a Down. The band recently released its first two singles in 15 years, and from 2001 album “Toxicity,” its video for hit single “Chop Suey” recently reached one billion views on YouTube.

The 22Red online merch shop offers a short selection of T-shirts, hoodies, and a branded baseball cap—all black and red, like the company’s logo, and designed to fit into any fan’s wardrobe.

CCP’s Brenneman said the type of merch that appeals to clients can sometimes be influenced by high-end brand concepts and consumers drawn to the luxury market. In that case, larger items like odor-proof luggage, artisan-crafted lock bags or boxes, and other designer lifestyle items can add to upsales in retail dispensaries.

In Aspen, Colorado, luxury cannabis brand Dalwhinnie Farms takes its name from the former dressage facility that now is home to its new growing facility. Located in a legendary ski resort town that draws wealthy visitors and longtime locals, Dalwhinnie’s image is ultra high-end, with a feel of fashion designer Ralph Lauren.

Designer apparel, jewelry, and home accessories are merchandised next to proprietary cannabis products, explained by budtenders trained to accommodate a connoisseur level of service. Branded merchandise, like Dalwhinnie whisky glasses, are of a quality that can be displayed or used in any stylish home.

The Dalwhinnie boutique opened in September, during the pandemic. Fortunately, cannabis businesses have been classified as essential in most legal states including Colorado. Still, tourism for the ski season may be adversely affected by COVID-19 travel restrictions. Fortunately, the store’s varied selection of products attracts passers-by to the quaint shopping street location, and non-cannabis items can be acquired online for shipping.

“Let your merch work for and highlight your brand,” CCP’s Brenneman advised.

“If I had a dollar for every time I had somebody tell me they wanted to start a lifestyle brand…,” she laughed.

“There has to be meaning behind it, right? There has to be a message on that or the brand has to mean something personally for people to want it. It doesn’t even have to be something awesome, like, you know, a custom, odor-resistant bag or a T-shirt. It could be something simple, like a lighter. But if it’s that brand that somebody’s personally attached to, they’re gonna use that lighter everywhere and then call for more.”