Jay-Z is the new chief brand strategist for Caliva, a vertically integrated cannabis business in the Bay Area. He’s not the first celebrity to join forces with a cannabis company, and he certainly won’t be the last. These strategic partnerships between growing cannabis businesses (especially larger companies on the West Coast) and intrigued celebrity influencers are part of a broader trend that’s swept up the entire consumer packaged goods market for years.
“There's just a lot of celebrity involvement in the brand universe and in CPG these days,” says Josh Wand, Founder and CEO of ForceBrands, with a specialized cannabis division HerbForce. “We've been seeing it happen in the bev/alc space, which is pretty closely related to cannabis.”
Think George Cloony’s Casamigos tequila brand, a drink that consumers may order by invoking Clooney’s name and giving power to the celebrity-brand connection, and you’ll get a sense of the power that a popular voice can bring to a product.
Cannabis companies are in a pattern of constantly raising capital to fuel the growth of their brands. And this is only becoming more pronounced as the wave of legalization continues to wash across more parts of the U.S. The industry is becoming normalized, and more mainstream sources of capital (among high-net-worth individuals) are bringing those cannabis companies in close contact with celebrities: actors, athletes and musicians who are interested in using their money to further an idea, a vision.
“What we see brands doing now with a lot of these celebrities is saying, ‘We're not just going to give you shares to post on social media,” Wand says. “’We want you to be meaningfully involved, we want you to invest in really having your voices heard, we want to make sure that as we develop this brand strategy it's in sync with the way you connect authentically with your community of followers and your fans.’”
The key, Wand points out, is that strategy. Rather that scoring photos of celebrities holding your product, the key is to bring in people who want to help promote your business and your corporate values.
“Just signing up 20 celebrities and hoping they're going to figure it out can be a lot less effective than really having a strategy and making sure you bring in people that, one, you like them as human and, two, you're aligned in mission and vision and values and, three, expectations are set up front,” Wand says. “When all of that aligns, magic can happen.”
This is something that the industry will be seeing more frequently as the climate evolves. U.S. markets may be fragmented now, but they won’t always be like this. And while licensed businesses are restricted by state boundaries, brands can move freely among segments of the U.S. cannabis marketplace.
Brands are where the consumer will look to understand the industry.
“You’re just going to see more and more of this [in cannabis],” Wand says. “These celebrities can come in as creative officers or brand officers that actually have a stake in the business in a meaningful way. That can really help with the trajectory and the growth and the brand positioning, and it's a super exciting time.”