A Budding New Advertising Category

This isn’t a new product, but it’s a new advertising category for most of us:

The category is medical marijuana. For most of our lives, it’s been against the law everywhere in the country. But in the past few years, a steadily increasing number of communities have decriminalized the possession and use of the drug for certain medical purposes. In those communities, “dispensaries” have sprung up to handle the demand.

Guess what? They want to advertise! Print publications are taking the money, and some broadcasters are beginning to accept it as well.

Here’s how the New York Times put it in a recent article:

What would happen in the many communities now allowing medical marijuana had been a subject of much hand-wringing. But few predicted this: that it would be a boon for local newspapers looking for ways to cope with the effects of the recession and the flight of advertising — especially classified listings — to Web sites like Craigslist.

But in states like Colorado, California and Montana where use of the drug for health purposes is legal, newspapers — particularly alternative weeklies — have rushed to woo marijuana providers. Many of these enterprises are flush with cash and eager to get the word out about their fledgling businesses.

“Medical marijuana has been a revenue blessing over and above what we anticipated,” said John Weiss, the founder and publisher of The Independent, a free weekly. “This wasn’t in our marketing plan a year ago, and now it is about 10 percent of our paper’s revenue.”  It is hard to measure what share of the overall market they account for, but ads for medical marijuana providers and the businesses that have sprouted up to service them — tax lawyers, real estate agents, security specialists — have bulked up papers in large metropolitan news markets like Los Angeles, San Francisco and Denver.

It’s not just the alternative weeklies who are accepting the business. Respectable mainstream dailies like the Denver Post and The Bozeman Daily Chronicle are also running ads from these businesses. As print continues to struggle, more newspapers are likely to decide that it’s silly to forgo the revenue.

Is it time for television stations to think about the once-unthinkable? Perhaps. There is significant evidence that society’s view of marijuana is shifting. Some state legislators, strapped for cash, are looking at  a variety of legalize-it-and-tax-it schemes. And a follow-up article in the Times discusses a related, somewhat ironic phenomenon: families in which elderly parents, suffering from cancer and other illnesses, are now asking their boomer kids to bring them the drug to ease their symptoms.

Here are the states in which medical marijuana has been decriminalized: Alaska, California, Colorado, District of Columbia, Hawaii, Maine, Michigan, Montana, Nevada, New Jersey, New Mexico, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, and Washington. Each has its own rules, regulations, and quirks. You can find a basic summary here.

I recently discussed the issue during a television station sales meeting, and learned that one enterprising AE had already put two clients on the air. Perhaps it’s not surprising that this station is in a college town…

If you’re an ad rep, you should talk to your manager before you start cold calling, if only to save an argument later. Find out whether the subject’s been discussed, whether your station or group is willing to take the business, and what restrictions there would be. Do not ask if you can do trade.

And keep in mind that even if the answer’s “no” today, it might turn into a “yes” if your local daily paper starts making good money on it.


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