In a CNBC article entitled "Companies woo the weed crowd with artful, edgy ads" is trying to make this huge connection between the legalization of marijuana in Washington and Colorado, and a spate of ads featuring stoner humor, and "code words." Such ads and phrases like one above as well as from the Carl's Junior campaign seem to be a growing trend, the article points out. To which I say: No shit, Sherlock.
The real point isn't that advertising is jumping on the marijuana bandwagon. It's that advertising has by and large been reduced to nothing but jumping on the bandwagon. At this point we are way beyond celebrity borrowed interest. We're now swiping all kinds of cultural aspects without even bothering to add anything new to that culture. It's monkey see, monkey do with logo at the end. What's even more alarming is that when I say this, some people in the industry nod their heads enthusiastically as if it's a good thing. They tell me we're talking to people on their level in the places where they are most likely to engage, etc.
What I think is this: instead of being culture creators, we're cultural ambulance chasers. Delusional vampires who believe strong branding isn't nearly as important as "getting talked about." And what better way to do it than to suck the life out of the trending topic du jour, right? Sales aren't as important as high fives for that tweet.
A comedian makes a youtube video about the evolution of dance so we bastardize it until it becomes a Corolla commercial. An overly twee band featuring a real life couple singing in their home becomes an overly twee band featuring a real life couple singing in their home, next to a car. You can see below if you want to ruin your day or have bad flashbacks.
It's more than just cars doing this, though. And it's not just scouring youtube for creative. Pick a trending topic and we're already figuring out a way to place an ad there, regardless of relevancy. That's hardly hyperbole when even hashtags and trending topics are included. Yay us?
The CNBC article points out that it's only a few brands that are jumping on the weed bandwagon and that most advertisers will shy away. Makes sense, considering there are 48 states that still haven't decriminalized weed, it's not something people advertise per se. But I wouldn't call it shying away so much as recognizing marijuana ads are not right for your brand.
At least in this instance the brands who are courting the dope smokers or trying to seem relevant and hip are relevant brands. When Ben and Jerry's tweeted the following, they were acknowledging their supposed place in the weed culture, rather than just piggybacking on the culture because it's in the news this month.
BREAKING NEWS: We're hearing reports of stores selling out of Ben & Jerry's in Colorado. What's up with that? pic.twitter.com/zBs8nyxZWn
— Ben & Jerry's (@benandjerrys) January 2, 2014
The same goes for Carl's Jr, Taco Bell, Jack in the Box. It makes sense for those brands to do this. You get stoned, you get hungry. IBM or Merrill Lynch? Not so much. And as much as it got talked about, I'm putting Spirit Airlines in this category, too.
When Spirit Airlines made its "Mile High" ad, it seemed more like a pathetic attempt to jump on the bandwagon, something out of a ho-hum Jay Leno monologue rather than a smart piece of creative. Yes it got them talked about, but so what? It probably turned a lot of people off. Airline pilots get drug tests on a regular basis. So an airline trying to capitalize on a flight to Denver because weed, is short sighted.
What kind of agency, or brand for that matter, wants to define success through earned media rather than actual sales? Answer: The kind of brand that wants to ape culture, rather than help define it.
And this is true of all cultural vampires. They believe if they just find the right youtube video or bandwagon that is already a success they won't even need to add anything new to it to continue that success. That's because they've been smoking some bad shit.
Here's an idea: Stop being a cultural vampire. Make something new instead.