The history of advertising is a difficult one to trace. Supposedly the first “advertisement” can be dated back to a stone carving in Ancient Egypt. Let’s be honest, if that was an ad, then any form of communication could in some way be called one as well. Really, up until the industrial revolution people lived in somewhat scarcity. Not to say people didn’t buy anything, but it took some scrounging before you could get yourself that new doublet. And you probably didn’t have many options when it came time to buy it.
From 1880 through 1920 total advertising spending in the United States went from $200 million to around $3 billion. The U.S, and the world, was rapidly transitioning into a production machine, fueled by an increasing population that now had something it never had before—options. The sheer scale of technological innovation that occurred in such a short amount of time, which now continues at an exponential rate, is baffling.
And with this expansion of technology and industry came the desire, nay, the need to instill in everyone the want for more than was even available. There are clear transitions the advertising industry has made since then. Moving away from a purely transactional nature, the goal of advertising is more now to build a relationship of trust between a brand and its audience.
Coca Cola’s “Buy the World a Coke” campaign was one of the first to inspire a new way of associating a brand with an idea beyond purely sales. And it’s only improved. Always brand’s campaign #likeagirl and Dove’s “Real Beauty Sketches” are other great examples of this shift in thinking.
Effective advertising now looks more like a captivating film than an attempt at stirring a purchase. And there’s good reason for that. Quality advertising is difficult to measure because it resonates most with a part of our brain we don’t have much direct contact with, but one that’s responsible for 95% of the thoughts we have—our subconscious.
This is all very fascinating when it comes to Cannabis because companies operating in this space are basically restricted from advertising whatsoever! Let me explain. The city of Boulder has recently proposed some modifications to current legislation related to Cannabis advertising. Boulder is considering allowing licensed Cannabis dispensaries to give out promotional material (fliers) to customers, a practice that’s currently illegal.
Yeah, ok, this really doesn’t mean a damn thing, does it? Well, it will. The potential to truly craft a story around Cannabis through advertising is immense. We’re quite a ways from seeing your new favorite Cannabis infused sparkling water while watching reruns of Seinfeld—but that day is coming. What I look forward to most are the Public Service Announcements working to get people over years of disinformation.
It was a lie. Now you know. What next?
It’s interesting that right around the time of full-fledged Cannabis prohibition in the early part of the 20th century, the possibility and need for advertising really took root. The Cannabis industry was forced into the shadows right when our storytelling to promote a transaction really took hold. Now, in a time where the objective of advertising has moved to connecting with an audience in a way that moves them, Cannabis has the potential to tell one of the most fascinating stories of all time.
Don Draper, one of the best ad men in the game (as well as a fictional character) once said:
“You are the product. You feeling something. That’s what sells. Not them. Not sex. They can’t do what we do, and they hate us for it.”
He couldn’t have been more right. And if anything truly has the potential to sell, build trust, be felt, craft an image, or reawaken a global consciousness capable of reflecting on a history of vilification with a willingness to look forward to what’s ahead, it’s Cannabis— with advertising as its catalyst.