Does Sex Sell in the Marijuana Industry?
A recent article we published called “The Ethical Purchasing Standard for Cannabis Consumers” got lots of comments and some interesting discussions going on what ethical cannabis consumers should look for in 2022. The obvious factors are for consumers to choose brands based on ethical and environmental concerns such as packaging, processing, carbon footprints, energy use, grow techniques like hydroponics, etc. One comment asked if consumers should support brands that use female cannabis influencers that strip down to their underwear, or less, to sell their products.
Interesting, the ethics of buying or supporting a brand that endorses female cannabis influencers in their underwear. Let’s backtrack a bit before looking into this social media born phenomena.
Cannabis.net has published multiple articles explaining why the exploitation of women and their bodies in order to get more” hearts” or “likes” on a post is wrong and outdated. Our basic retort has always been, “Be a great marijuana influencer on your own, why do you have to take your clothes off?”. The article, “Why Boobs and Bongs Have to Be Eliminated from the Cannabis Industry” got many upvotes from the cannabis industry as for all the hard work female pioneers are doing in the cannabis space such as fighting the “good old boys” network, and breaking through glass ceilings, ganja girls in their underwear selling bongs brings the female movement in cannabis back to the outdated thinking of marketing in the 1970s.
If it does not work, why are brands and young females doing it? Does sex sell in the marijuana industry? The sexual exploitive ads of the 1970s and 80s were an attempt by car makers, beer companies, and Big Tabacco to appeal to the male consumer between 18 to 35 years old. Do men between 18 and 35 buying cannabis like the fact females are stripping down to their underwear and promoting ancillary products as well as cannabis brands? Dan Bilzerian’s Ignite cannabis brand built a social media dynasty in the early cannabis years by promoting his brand with scores of beautiful women in the bikinis or underwear. His marketing, while holding the male viewer’s attention, did not translate to sales success as Ignite ended up losing so much money that Bilzerian pulled it from the marijuana market.
Defending the Boobs and Bongs
When given the chance to talk to cannabis influencers who are doing this type of work, the general response revolves around a positive body image, I can do what I want, I work hard to look this way and I have a right to make money using my body, social media created this opportunity for a side hustle, don’t follow if you don’t like it, to each his own, etc.
While comments on this type of post tend to follow an age demographic for sure, it is not 100% either way on the topic. Generally, if you are over 35 years old, you find the semi-nude marketing ploy to be tasteless, cheap, and tawdry. If you are under 35, you tend to be more open to the idea and sympathizing with the influencers. Not a shocking revelation based on generations Z, X, and millennials. Much depends on how you grew up, what was and wasn’t seen as acceptable, and what social media platforms were dominate during your teen years. Remember, Snap was originally created for sexting, to send a private picture that would disappear a few moments after being viewed.
As far as ethical cannabis consumers who want to support brands that do right by the environment, that do right by inclusive hiring practices, that do right be fair compensation levels, and do right by non-exploitive marketing, do ganja girls in their underwear qualify on an ethics scale? The answer, as the consumer deciding what brands to support, is yes. The consumer is free to come up with any variety of reasons to support brands, from being environmentally friendly to being a supporter of your town’s little league program. The consumer can make up his or her own lists of important factors when making a purchasing decision, maybe the environment and carbon footprint is one, maybe the other is how they choose to market their brand and what type of advertisements they publicly use.
Are scantily glad women peddling cannabis products and ancillary brands a good thing for the cannabis industry? No. As the cannabis industry fights for Federal legalization and main-stream acceptance, the boobs and bongs influencer marketing will have to disappear in the same way it is no longer a staple of car ads, tobacco ads, motorcycle ads, beer ads, and other industries that matured into billion-dollar mainstays in America. Bikini wearing female cannabis tokers diminish the power of the cannabis plant by cheapening the message of healing medicine and impede the progress that women working in the cannabis industry that keep their clothes as part of their cannabis industry job. This type of advertising hurts legalization as it presents the plant in a “sexy, soft-porn” environment that is not great for swinging voters in conservative states and middle America. It also demeans women in general and plays into misogynistic and archaic advertising models.
Remember, history may not repeat but it will rhyme. Brands using scantily clad women to push their products will eventually face an ethical consumer backlash. Ignite brands pumped millions of dollars in to the “sexy, bikini clad fantasy cannabis lifestyle” and got burned. If Ignite is a harbinger for other cannabis brands, be very careful and clear in your influencer marketing that there should be no underwear or topless shots in order to promote a cannabis brand.
One workaround that some female influencers are trying is to have sexy, but clothes on, promotion of different cannabis products, and if people want to see more, they have set up Only Fan pages, that don’t include the cannabis brand, and require payment to access. The lines of what is influencing and what is peddling start to blur in these new setups. If your influencer a soft-core star who does cannabis promotion on the side, or is she a cannabis influencer who also has an adult site, side-hustle set up?
In the end, taking off your clothes to get a higher social media engagement rate is just a cheap, low rent, way to promote any product. Big auto, tobacco, and alcohol all eventually got the message from consumers that female body exploitation is not okay. Cannabis industry brands, which have many female consumers and women in c-suites of cannabis companies, will also learn this lesson.