Rob Baiocco is the co-founder and creative director of The BAM Connection, a Brooklyn, New York-based agency that works primarily with “adult” brands, such as cannabis, alcohol, and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals. . The company recently gained high praise for its work with Keystone Canna Remedies, Pennsylvania’s first medical marijuana dispensary. Rob discusses the appeal and challenges of working with these “adult” brands, the future of these categories, and his agency’s work with Keystone.
What first prompted The BAM Connection to start working with “adult brands”, such as over-the-counter cannabis, alcohol and phrama?
Who doesn’t want to work on spirits and cannabis? Every creative I know drools on occasion. And we are no different. Wine/Spirits is one of the truest and purest marketing categories, where you create an image for a brand. People walk up to a bar and say I’m gonna get mark x. They make their choice publicly, and that still says a lot about who they are. Choices in most other categories are made privately. Plus, creatives can have fun working on minds. When it comes to cannabis, how exciting to usher in a whole new category that feels a bit like the wild west as it all comes together. We’ve been doing it for almost four years now and we love being at the forefront of a growing movement. And in healthcare, I appreciate the OTC side. It’s an interesting challenge. Quite the opposite of spirits. Consumers only come to you for the majority of OTC products when they have a problem. No matter how good we could make an athlete’s foot cream, no one will buy it unless they have athlete’s foot. So it’s a classic problem/solution to solve.
Are there any additional considerations that need to go into your work with these potentially stigmatized brands compared to working with more traditional companies?
Absolutely. They certainly have more regulations, age limits, overuse issues, and relentless scrutiny of claims than you can actually do. We have become very adept at navigating these turbulent waters. In spirits, the great balancing act is capturing the joy of drinking, without crossing the line into overconsumption. It’s always on our radar when we create work. I wrote the first television advert that broke the 48-year-old self-imposed ban on television spirits advertising for Crown Royal Whisky. So I’ve been living this from the start. Cannabis is still federally illegal, which creates a major stigma. People who aren’t openly cannabis advocates still don’t want to openly admit they use it. Also, the rules change pretty much daily by state. So you have to be all over it. OTC is all about regulations and claims. It’s best to work closely with these team members to get the best wording out as quickly as possible. The point of all of this is to present the brand in the best possible light without crossing any lines that suddenly have the opposite effect on the brand. Besides regulators, you should be very aware of haters on social media.
What was your agency’s thought process when trying to build the online presence of the Keystone Canna Remedies brand?
We had three very clear and definitive principles that guided our process.
First, use responsible marketing. In all honesty, many early cannabis startups were smokers who had a head start trying to build a business. Coming from other regulated categories and having extensive experience with big brands, we immediately applied many of these principles to the cannabis category. We did not have the wind in our sails. We were creating thoughtful and responsible marketing to legitimize the brand in a category perceived as mostly illegitimate. Additionally, we used our spirits and OTC experience to guide us as these categories are 50-100 years ahead of cannabis. This approach is necessary because the commercialization of cannabis is under the microscope of regulators more than any other category before. Facebook closed our page… twice!
Second, the brand, because we weren’t just selling weed. We were selling a brand. A brand that serves the community by providing relief from people’s excruciating chronic pain, and we’ve done that through emotion, a crucial part of any cannabis advertising in my opinion. We always try to make sure that we’re not just selling a product, but a brand, and all of that also means it’s cannabis. Plus, anticipating the massive proliferation to come, we knew branding was even more critical. Eventually, when you can get your marijuana anywhere and everywhere, only the brand will survive.
Finally, education, education, education, because unless you’re actively involved with cannabis, you probably know very little about it. However, that doesn’t mean you’re not interested in it, especially now that it’s legal in many states. Many people drink spirits, wine and beer, of course they will be curious about this other way to relax and unwind. Then comes education. Tons and tons of education. Strains, history, conditions, how to get a medical card, how a dispensary works. You name it, we taught it.
Since the creation of The BAM Connection in 2013, have the expectations of “adult brands” regarding the work of your agency changed as they become more accepted?
There has been an amplified expectation for more cut creations. These marketers, like many others, realize that the world is getting so much more competitive with each passing day and that creativity is the only way to break through. Other than that, OTC expectations have remained fairly consistent over this period. They’ve “got it” for quite some time. In the spirits and cannabis categories, I think the constant expectation is to find the right balance between the pleasure of the product and its regulation. The only other real shift in expectations is with the massive growth spurt of social media platforms over this period, we are now expected to not only understand these and how these brands fit in (or are banned), but also to avoid pitfalls and curiosities. haters.