Weedmaps just released an ad campaign on Monday featuring a man dressed as a broccoli who’s going through an identity crisis because people now associate the vegetable with cannabis.
The greater messaging of the ad, however, provides a commentary on the censorship that cannabis businesses, influencers, publications, and journalists continue to face on social media and mainstream advertising, forcing people to use emojis — like broccoli, the maple leaf, and pots — to talk about weed.
The ad is intentionally pegged to the Super Bowl, according to Marijuana Moment, one of the biggest advertising “holidays” of the year that mostly features alcohol brands. Weedmaps reached out to CBS to air the ad during the big game, but the network declined the request.
Weedmaps stressed that advertising restrictions are strictly enforced, limiting businesses that are lawfully operating in a growing number of states with legalized cannabis.
“Despite three quarters of the country having legalized cannabis and the bipartisan enthusiasm we continue to see in support for change at the federal level, the industry continues to face roadblocks that inhibit competition in the legal market and stifle opportunities to educate,” Weedmaps CEO Chris Beals said to Marijuana Moment. “There’s an irony in the fact that the biggest night for advertising will feature an array of consumer brands in regulated industries, from beverage alcohol to sports betting, yet legal cannabis retailers, brands, and businesses have been boxed out.”
“I’m an icon,” Brock Ollie, the broccoli, says in the ad. “But since we can’t talk about cannabis publicly, my likeness is being used as a safe substance.”
After going through a typical workday where people jokingly stereotype the broccoli — like assuming he’s getting stoned when he’s actually going to a finance meeting — the character meets up with other emoticons that are also used to represent cannabis on social media.
“It’s taking over my life,” Brock Ollie complains. “Cannabis is here to stay and that’s great. But can we just call it what it is?”
The call to action at the end of the video is a simple statement: “Cannabis is here. Let’s talk about it.”
Beals said that the advertising challenges the industry faces “are simply part of a much larger issue.”
“Objective and reliable information about cannabis is integral to the sustained growth of this industry,” he said. “The deficiency of such information and the current limitations that hinder cannabis education continue to negatively impact other areas, such as medical research, and it’s time we begin to address them.”
Instagram is notorious for shutting down cannabis brands and influencer accounts. But it’s not the only social media account that has wonky drug and substance use rules. For example, Twitter partnered with a federal drug agency last year to promote substance misuse treatment resources when users of the social media platform search for “marijuana” or certain other substance-related keywords — but no such health warning appears when searching for alcohol-connected terms. These “health warnings” still populate at the top of the screen at the time of writing this story.