Expanding the Brand: Why Cannabis Loves Merch

Better margins and less ad restrictions have cannabis brands shifting focus onto elevating your experience, past just their smoke.
Merch
Courtesy of Alien Labs

If you’re (trying to stay) active with the community on Instagram, you probably noticed before long that just about every weed brand, strain, and phrase has an entire merch business built around it. While to the outsider this might seem strange, or tacky, within the culture wearing the right thing is just as much a sign of awareness as it is clout, and we all know how kids go crazy for clout. In fact, this is how we wound up with so many middle schoolers in Texas wearing Cookies gear – those kids aren’t smoking Cookies, but they want their friends to think so.

The transference that occurs from wearing the right thing is nothing new. From Jordan’s to AP’s, suits to crowns way back when, fashion and accessories have long been used to communicate the lifestyle of its wearer from the first glance, and it’s the driver of billions of dollars every year.

Diversification works Everywhere

Now, while I know that everyone thinks cash is pouring out of the walls for cannabis operators, the reality of the game today is much more sobering. Especially for brands operating on the over-regulated and taxed recreational market. How are these guys supposed to increase their profits enough to ensure they survive (if not grow) through another season of the sinking cost per pound? Well friends, as it turns out, the margins on soft goods are much better than they are on weed today.

But it’s not just a profit game. This visible clout transference doubles as brand awareness marketing for the operator. As everyone from fashion houses to bands know, the best way to familiarize outsiders with your brand is to mobilize as many walking billboards (fans) as you possibly can. This works for literally everyone with a following, but in a space shackled with as many ad restrictions as our industry, and not to mention social platforms that want to ban us just for existing, the value of the merchandise business starts becoming clearer. Couple this with a new high margin revenue stream also much less restricted than legal cannabis, and you’ve got a perfect opportunity to build your brand in an engaging, creative, and profitable way.

To further explain how this can be especially beneficial for brands in this industry, allow me to provide a few examples.

Courtesy of Alien Labs

Alien Labs merchandise is now available at Zumiez

Alien Labs has long understood the value of building community. In fact, I first heard of the brand on social media back when brands still had a chance on the platforms. It was actually through a share from one of the members of the die-hard fan base founder Ted had amassed on Instagram, and I was immediately hooked by not only their incredible flower, but their fully thought out and effective brand image & story. Even in the early days I remember being floored by the look and feel of Alien Labs. As a marketing whore myself, their aesthetic was so fresh, and yet made so much sense. These guys were out of this world, and for someone trying to get as high as possible, going to space was exactly what I was looking for.

Now I was already a long time cannabis consumer by the time I found these guys, but through a new deal with Zumiez an entire generation of new consumers (many of whom may not have actually smoked before) is going to get introduced to this brand based on their incredible marketing alone. While sure, their flower is top tier by anyone’s standards, the effort they have put into developing a brand voice and aesthetic has already sold out the collection in many of their new partners stores – with dozens that aren’t even in states Alien Labs operates their cannabis business in. If that’s not an effective marketing campaign, I don’t know what is.

Courtesy of Masonic

Masonic has a Store, and toys!

For some, the merch business has grown so big that it’s worth building a flagship that doesn’t even sell THC-goods. We’ve seen it with the Jokes Up crew, the guys who created the Runtz wave, but probably my favorite example of this is Masonic’s on Fairfax. For those that don’t know, Masonic is a legendary breeder, whose cultivars (and frankly his personality) have created a cult-like fandom. There are very few people who can put their likeness on a shirt and sell as well as this man does. That said, as if the location alone doesn’t communicate the prestige of this store enough, what Edgar (Masonic) has built is really something you have to experience to fully understand. His aesthetic plays into both the game and L.A. of yesteryear, and while it’s clearly a legit store with racks of fun branded clothes, bags, and even my personal favorite, custom action figures of the man himself, it exudes that communal vibe you remember from the 215 days. It’s the type of place fans actually want to hang out at, as opposed to just visit to shop. In fact, pretty much every time I’ve been to his spot there have been a crowd of people just hanging around, talking about genetics and showing off their current favs.

Courtesy of Masonic

710 Labs Collabs with Artists, Taps into Online Fandom

Another one of my favorite examples of playing with merchandise is what 710 Labs has been doing for the past few years. While clearly having an incredible aesthetic on their own, and already selling unique non-cannabis branded products to their fans like robot trash cans & neon signs (both of which I can not say enough good things about), what’s perhaps more special is their ability to tap in with emerging talent to create original yet relevant new creations. Their latest, a collaboration with LA-local airbrush artist Spacebrat is a perfect example of this. Providing natural-seeming yet far out visuals, Spacebrat did an excellent job tapping into the brands culture in an entirely new way.

Courtesy of Spacebrat

This isn’t their only massive win in the art game though – in the past their collaborations with Camp High, Troy Chew, and LSD World Peace have all sold through quickly. That said, you can still check out a lot of what they’ve done here.

Courtesy of 710 Labs

Past the Clout

As has been the open secret of the music industry for as long as I can remember, the best way to support the artists you love is not only to buy their albums, but to go see ‘em on the road and buy their merch. A much higher margin of that sale goes back to the artists you love, while record sales, streams and the like are often far less lucrative for the creator. Cannabis is a lot like that right now. While it can definitely seem like these expert cultivators and producers should be raking in the dough thanks to the strength of their THC-driven products, the truth is with all the middle men and taxes, that’s not how most of them are eating right now. Your merch sales, buying direct from the brand at events where possible, and sharing their content is the best thing you could do to support these guys through this difficult time.

And for brands in the space, use these as inspiration! With a little bit of notoriety or a whole lot of creativity, take some shots outside of your normal game. I think you’d be surprised how lucrative and beneficial mobilizing your army could be!

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2 comments
  1. The Alien Labs merch only looks cool if you’re 11 years old. It couldn’t be uglier and only diminishes the brand. Sherbinski does it right and was branding before it was cool.

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