After working quietly for three years with a marijuana company, a well known ad firm in Portland came out Friday with its first video advertising campaign.
It features a cannabis-infused drink, but the actors could just as well be drinking beer.
The ad, which features a casual backyard party where people sip the marijuana-infused soda, underscores how much cannabis has merged into mainstream culture, at least in parts of the Pacific Northwest.
At first, Andy Fraser, Sockeye CEO, was cautious about working with the marijuana market. After all, the company’s high-profile accounts include Oregon Health & Science University, the Portland Children’s Museum and the University of Oregon. Sockeye has also done work for The Oregonian/OregonLive.
“We were raised with, ‘This is wrong,’ and it’s hard to shed that predisposition,” he said.
But when his friend Adam Stites, an entrepreneur with experience in e-commerce, came to him with an idea for the marijuana edibles market, Fraser was intrigued.
“There is no question there was some hesitation,” he said. “It’s a polarizing subject matter, but we have just taken the approach that here is a great entrepreneur making a great product and doing it really well.”
Fraser said Sockeye helped Stites research the market to figure out which new product might appeal to consumers. Marijuana consumers already have plenty of cookie and candies to choose from so Sockeye and Stites came up with the idea for a sparkling soda.
The name of the drink: Legal.
The product launched in Washington’s recreational marijuana market in 2014 and is now available to consumers 21 and older in Oregon.
With help from Portland filmmaker James Westby, Sockeye produced a video for Legal featuring a scene that could have unfolded in any Portland backyard. A band, with Westby as frontman, plays on a patio for a dozen or so friends who appear to be unwinding after the work week.
The catchy jingle highlights a new type of soda, whose retro label and stubby brown bottle could easily be mistaken for the latest kombucha or craft beer. The ad doesn’t feature pot leaves, green crosses or bikini-clad women, some of the more common images associated with marijuana.
The idea, said Fraser and Westby, was to pitch the drink like wine or high-end tea.
Aimee Huff, an assistant professor of marketing at Oregon State University who has studied marijuana advertising in Colorado, said Sockeye’s ad targets consumers new to cannabis or people who don’t want to smoke. She said the ad, which echoes alcohol advertising, is clearly an effort to give the product mainstream appeal.
“Nothing they are doing is groundbreaking or edgy,” Huff said. “You see a range of different body types, ethnicities and genders. They are normal people doing what normal people do on a Friday night: relaxing at a barbecue.”
That was the point, said Stites, whose company is called Mirth Provisions.
“We wanted to break some of the stigma that’s common in cannabis, the stoner mentality,” he said.
Fraser isn’t clamoring for more cannabis accounts. He’s already turned down prospective clients, worried that their products lack broad appeal.
Said Fraser: “We want to make sure that if we are going to work with cannabis brands, we are going to do it with one that is doing it right, that they are super careful about how they are doing it.”
— Noelle Crombie