In 2013, Andreas Johansson launched a new vodka for a celebrity who knows a thing or two about controversy. The client, Dennis Rodman, had just wrapped a season of Celebrity Apprentice, and he was making headlines as the first American who visited North Korea’s then-leader Kim Jong-un. “I think we launched Bad Boy Vodka right as he was coming back from his second trip to North Korea,” Johansson said. “At that point, feedback was still overwhelmingly positive.”
Marketing a dangerously misunderstood product
Michael Josem has marketed online gambling platforms for over a decade, and he knows how tricky the process can be. He worked in marketing and public relations for several online gambling companies, including PokerStars, for over a decade before switching to the agency world.
While working as the head of brand public relations at PokerStars, Josem oversaw a team dedicated to earned media opportunities, which included “finding, creating, and telling positive stories about the brand, and also responding to stories that were critical of the brand.”
PokerStars is the largest real-money poker game in the world. The brand controls over two-thirds of the market. Despite being a gargantuan presence that follows clearly defined gambling guidelines, PokerStars has been continually linked to lesser sites. Josem said some of these sites stretch the limits of ethical, legal gambling to the breaking point. That meant his job was differentiating the PokerStars brand from the herd.
To change that perception, PokerStars started by celebrating big winners locally, away from a computer screen. The company threw parties for winners in their communities, which accomplished two things. First, it played up the idea that the platform isn’t rigged, and anyone can win. Second, it challenged the notion that online poker is shady.
Marketing a product with changing legality
The editors at cannabisMD know what you’re thinking, but their brand is not another stoner haven. “We’re not talking about flower, smoking, or bud,” Jennifer Romolini, the site’s new editor-in-chief, said. “We’re not going to slap up some tie-dye. That’s a cool young hip space to play in, but we’re a very specific, higher-end brand, and our content is about healing and getting yourself some help.”
Romolini and her team publish articles on cannabisMD that break down complex medical insights on cannabis, sourced from clinical studies, and delivered in approachable language for an intelligent audience. The audience uses cannabis products to combat medical issues. But, that’s not to say the brand can’t have fun. Romolini likens cannabisMD to the health and wellness section of a women’s magazine, which is an industry she’s very familiar with, after twenty years of working in women’s editorial at Shondaland, Yahoo!Shine, and Timeout.
“A lot of publications address the recreational aspect,” she said. “So we believe the medical and wellness group is undeserved. There’s a way to marry readers to the data, based on what we’ve learned by surveying our existing audience and learning about SEO.”
How will cannabisMD’s team know that they’re breaking through the stereotypes of cannabis and reaching the right audience? It’s easier to tell than you’d think. “Digital lets you know pretty quickly if things are working,” she said. “There aren’t really any surprises in this industry anymore.”