General Mills, the $18 billion global food giant started targeting Denver cannabis consumers with ads for a line of frozen snacks recently, igniting the interest of marijuana professionals.
One executive even snapped a photo of a large billboard that promotes the snacks – Totino’s Pizza Rolls – by referencing the 4/20 cannabis holiday.
The chief marketing officer of Dixie Brands (an infused products maker), Joe Hodas said, “I caught one on Colfax Avenue, so I took a picture of it and said, ‘It looks like we’ve really gone mainstream with this Totino’s Pizza Roll billboard.’”
The bold advertising move, which includes billboards and ads on buses that include slogans such as “Stock Up B4/20,” is both promising and frustrating for those in the marijuana industry.
On one hand, it shows how large mainstream companies are starting to take the cannabis market seriously.
On the other hand, the fact that General Mills can target marijuana consumers via multiple billboards and city buses around Denver while cannabis companies in most states are largely barred from doing so; highlighting the uneven playing field for MJ businesses.
This isn’t the first time Totino’s, which is owned by global food giant General Mills, has tried to appeal to marijuana consumers.
On April 20 a year ago, the official Totino’s Twitter account posted multiple jokes and cannabis-themed ads online, including references to such marijuana sayings as “wake and bake,” “hot box,” and “roll your own.”
Other major mainstream companies have tried to make inroads with cannabis consumers by utilizing cultural jokes and phrases.
But while Totino’s may not be the first mainstream company to dip its toes into cannabis-related advertising, the number of billboards and other ads that it paid for in the Denver metro area may very well be a milestone. Now we are seeing these ads everywhere, even on the sides of city busses.
Seeb added that the Regional Transportation District, which operates bus services in the Denver metro area, must have had to approve the ads knowing that they reference marijuana.
General Mills did not respond to multiple requests for comment from Marijuana Business Daily, so it’s unclear just how many ads the company paid for around Denver, how much it invested in the ad campaign, or if it’s posting similar ads in states other than Colorado.
But Seeb, like Hodas, said the incident highlights the limitations of marijuana-related companies to advertise their own products and services. It is a shame that these opportunities are not afforded to those that are actually in the industry.
Policy analyst Andrew Livingston, who works for the Denver cannabis law firm Vicente Sederberg, said advertising and marketing restrictions vary greatly across the state depending on local ordinances, but the umbrella state law is rather restrictive by itself.
“The only big public billboard or sign that you can have under state law is the one on your zoned lot,” Livingston said.
For plant-touching companies such as retailers or the producers of edibles that want to advertise in print or online, he said, the bar is that the company must be ready to present “reliable evidence” that no more than 30% of that outlet’s audience is under 21 years old. This is nearly impossible to do.
The consequence is there’s a real dearth of actual marijuana-related ads in the public domain.
Other states have similarly strict advertising limitations.
One of the ways cannabis companies try to work around such limitations in Colorado, Livingston said, is by sponsoring things such as highway cleanups. Doing so gets their names on small signs on the side of the highway.
“It’s a frustrating issue, (but) I applaud a company like General Mills that isn’t banned from advertising” trying to target the cannabis crowd, Seeb said, adding that he’s certain the Totino’s marketing ploy won’t be the last such gimmick to appear in states with legal cannabis.
And maybe if General Mills is allowed to do it, then this will be a big enough statement that the rest of us will soon get to do the same.