How marketers can change deeply ingrained consumer perceptions

Related Articles


Are you planning your video assets for optimal channel performance?


A quick guide to storytelling with video


How marketers can change deeply ingrained consumer perceptions


Hi RocketMill, my name is Carla Harris. My talk today is about how marketers can change deeply ingrained consumer perceptions.

Now, I want you for a minute to imagine that you are marketers, which hopefully shouldn’t be such a hard task even though it is late on a Friday afternoon, but instead, the product that you have to market has faced decades and decades of negative press. And it sits within an industry which is super controversial. So controversial in fact, that I almost didn’t do this talk in front of you today because the very mention of the word can just make people feel uncomfortable and a bit awkward. But now your objective as marketers is to make people realise that this product is now a benefit to people’s health and lives.

Any guesses what the industry is before I reveal?

Ta-da. It is Friday afternoon. But yeah, so just to address the elephant in the room. Yes, I am talking about ganja, reefer, weed, or wacky backy, as my dad likes to refer to it.

Now, recent studies have proven that this plant does have medicinal benefits, and despite its huge hard-to-shake stigma, cannabis is a hot topic right now in the world of business, and there’s no denying it.

Ultimately, I’m going to be exploring today, cannabis and what’s changed in recent months and years. How big is the market, because I think you’ll be very surprised. Secondly, what are the challenges for marketers? As of which there are plenty. Then ultimately, what marketers in this industry are doing to change consumer perceptions. And off the back of that, marketers across any industry, at any level, can learn from this.

The stigma

First of all, the stigma. I think you’ll all agree that there’s a widely shared negative perception of stoner stereotypes. Whether you’re thinking of troublesome teens or lazy hippies who are raiding their mum’s fridge, they’re sluggish, they’re unmotivated, they’re paranoid. I’m sure you’re all conjuring up different images. These negative connotations have for many years caused people to demonise this ancient plant.

Now, why wouldn’t they, as well? A lot of bad rep that cannabis got is going to come from a video I’m about to show in a minute, came from 1930s when a propaganda film called Reefer Madness debuted to a pre World War II paranoid audience of people, about the melodramatic events that unfold when people are given this so-called gateway drug, cannabis, and they get into all sorts of problems.

Again, I know this is propaganda, but check out this crazy video.

[Video plays]

So yeah, we’re going to have to start checking your shoes when you start coming into work. Yeah, a crazy video. Here’s some more anti marijuana propaganda that was in circulation around the same time in the 1930s. Yeah, this is genuine real propaganda, there’s a thing.

But yeah, I know that that was of course a long, long time ago, and I think that we’re so much more wise to propaganda like that in 2018. But ultimately, we’re still seeing the same thing but just through mediums that we’re maybe more familiar with in 2018. So times have changed, but have they really?

Yeah, I know you’re probably thinking, why the hell are you talking about this today? What is it that’s propelled cannabis into the limelight in recent months? So I think it’s important at this stage to look at the recent scientific developments.

The science behind marijuana

Now again, I’m no scientist, but I think it’s important to understand a little bit of science here, as there’s a side to the cannabis plant that for many years we’ve all been potentially overlooking.

Firstly, there is THC, a compound from cannabis that gets you stoned and high, and makes you eat your mum’s food in the fridge and watch silly films, and all the rest of it. And on the other side of the coin, there is a compound called CBD, which some of you may have heard of that’s cropping up in the news recently.

It’s derived from exactly the same plant, and yet it’s proven to help with a long list, an impressively long list, of ailments and illnesses. From epilepsy, bowel disease, MS, seizures, you may have seen some stuff in the news recently. But also just things like aches and pains, inflammatory things, anxiety, all sorts. The list really is impressive if you read about it.

Most importantly, and this is the big differentiating factor, CBD has absolutely zero psychoactive effect, so it does not make you feel stoned and high, and I could be on it right now and you wouldn’t know.

But I’m sure you’re probably imagining, why are we talking about this, because isn’t cannabis illegal anyway? But here are the current laws.

Current marijuana laws

The last 20 years have seen a dramatic shift in the laws, and you might be surprised to know that each of these countries have legalised cannabis for medicinal use.

You’ll have seen in the media recently that Canada have even taken it one step further, and have legalised cannabis for recreational use across the whole country, so this really is a bit of a movement.

This is no longer something that’s just going on across the pond in America and Canada. Cannabis for a long time has been illegal in the UK as a class B drug. Very recently however, as of the 1st of November, 2018, hence why it’s so, so current, the Home Office has now agreed to relax rules over medicinal cannabis, and you can now get it prescribed by your doctors in England, Scotland, and Wales, for medicinal purposes. So yeah, super current.

As a result of course, Google searches around CBD and the sort of medicinal cannabis-related terms, have absolutely sky rocketed, as you can see from this Google trends report. So this just further proves that there’s a really curious market out there.

The cannabis market

How big is the market? Is this just kind of drug dealers on the street, or is there money in this? Well, a recent forecast by a company called Statista, demonstrates the rate at which this industry is set to grow. As you can see, we’re definitely not just talking small change.

This once stigmatised product is poised to make absolutely huge gains in the health, lifestyle and wellness industry, and ultimately to the tune of $63.5 billion, and that’s globally by 2024. So we’re talking like six years’ time.

The growth and cultivation of marijuana in the US is the fastest growing industry in the US right now. There’s no denying that there’s huge money to be made, and I’m wondering if the UK is going to be faced with similar, and whether we should be jumping on the back of it.

But ultimately, it comes with some real challenges. I imagine armed with all these opportunities, and especially these scientific developments, you’d be itching to start advertising. Marketers within the medicinal cannabis industry are itching to start advertising, especially when there’s a clear hunger from consumers to start purchasing. I imagine you’d want to start curating a list of CBD-related keywords, hire media planners and buyers, and start advertising your CB products on the biggest networks available.

But if the stigma wasn’t enough to try and overcome, there’s also digital marketing blockers. Advertising cannabis-related products is a complex and challenging feat because of the varying laws and the close relationship to THC. But ultimately, I want you guys in the audience to raise your hand if you’ve seen or heard something in the news around medicinal cannabis, or around cannabis in general, which has portrayed cannabis in a more positive light in the last few years. Raise your hand if you’ve seen something.

Wow. I was expecting like three of you, that I asked in advance to do that. So yeah, the whole room I think just raised their hand, which is a really nice sign. Because this demonstrates that marketers are definitely doing something right, especially in regards to medicinal cannabis. And what is it that they’re doing right?

Quite simply, I think they are doing two things, and they’re doing them really, really well. And that is segmentation and storytelling, which ultimately goes on to educate, inform, and inspire people.


Now, segmentation by way of definition, obviously I’ve been sort of teaching you to suck eggs, I imagine, but it’s a way of dividing population into groups based on kind of shared opinions, characteristics or beliefs.

BDS Analytics, a market trends business in America, recently determined that in relation to medicinal cannabis, there are three key segments.

The consumers

First of all, they are consumers. They have used marijuana products in the last six months, and they’re certainly open to trying them in the future.

The acceptors

Secondly, you’ve got the acceptors. Despite not having cannabis in the last six months, they’re certainly willing to try in the future.

The rejectors

And lastly, you’ve got the rejectors, whose average age is 56 years old. They’ve never tried cannabis, and they’re certainly not open to the idea in the future.


Lastly, what you’ve got is storytelling. It’s absolutely nothing new here and It’s something we’ve been doing since the birth of man. And in 2018, I think Jon will agree, this is something that’s known as a great content strategy.

So you’ve got stories being told to these varying segments of people, in ways that ultimately mean something to them. You’ve got the likes of Nat Geo, a beloved client of ours, and then Time Magazine, likely appealing to all three of those segments that we just discussed, but instead coming from a position of trust and authority. And then you’ve got video content like this, which I’m going to play in a minute.

Now, this is three granddads who are smoking weed for the first ever time, they’re from all walks of life. And as you can see, it’s got 3.7 million views. Now what I think is, that this type of video content, whilst I think it should be separated from medicinal cannabis because they’re smoking it for recreational purposes, this type of content is playing a pivotal role in normalising cannabis at just industry level.

The psychology and science of storytelling is hugely powerful, because when we watch someone on film, we see their actions, we’re in touch with their face, their body language, their posture, their vocal range, and we instantly relate to what’s going on.

I’ll play the video and explain why I think it’s so important.

[Video plays]

Yeah, ultimately a really engaging bit of content, and I think people from all walks of life can enjoy. Whether you’re a consumer or a rejector, it’s entertaining, it’s something that’s a little bit different.

Here’s another one. I’m not going to play you the video, because we could watch these all day. But here, again, even a rabbi, a priest and an atheist, smoking cannabis. And again, the really important thing I want you to take away from this, is that I really think what this is doing is making quite normal people, and taking a situation and taking normal people to influence the traditional what is known as the rejectors to be influenced by content strategy.

What then happens, is the consumers and the acceptors go on to influence the likes of the rejectors. So you get the consumers, the beginning people, who’ve maybe tried cannabis in the last few months and are certainly open to trying it in the future, or maybe just the acceptors who have tried it, but haven’t for a while. They then read content by the likes of Nat Geo, or they might watch a video on YouTube, or wherever it may be, they consume this content. And it then goes on to have a really big impact on that segment of people called the rejectors, such as this.

“Mum, I’ve been thinking, dad should try CBD for his back pain. I know what you’re thinking, but you should read about it.” Now, what is once considered a really traditionally closed segment of people, are suddenly being subject to messaging and ideas from those who are potentially easier to influence.

Ultimately, of course, the media pick up on it. And coupled with the media picking up on this, you ultimately have stories being told to different audiences, with messages that really means something to them.


So, how do we change consumers perceptions? I think you need to segment your audience. You then need to understand their perceptions and where they’ve come from, and then you need to educate and inspire them through great content and the art of storytelling.

Cannabis has been stigmatised for over 80 years now, and marketers all around the globe are altering consumer perceptions in just the next five years. From Reefer Madness to hippies, to hoodies, for want of a better phrase, to storytelling, to $63.5 billion in 2024.

Thank you.