Companies flock to celebrities to endorse their brands despite the certainty of their return on investment (ROI). Still, market activity remains immense. So much so that influencer marketing could grow to approximately $16.4 billion this year.
Huge returns, in some cases, bolster the fondness for celebrities. Conversely, partnerships also see brands fail to connect with audiences while burning ad budgets.
In cannabis, various noteworthy names help get the word out when most traditional digital marketing means are prohibited. The key to winning consumers’ attention and shopping loyalty appears to be authenticity.
The desire for authentic brand ambassadors has recently seen scores of companies turn to influencers over celebrities. In the middle of the two worlds exists reality stars. While certainly known for celebrity-type shows, these media figures often appear more accessible and relatable.
“Reality stars are kind of the new actors of the generation, influencers even more so,” said Jay Jackson, better known as reality star and entertainer Laganja Estranja.
Authentic Connections Required
Reality stars may provide more authenticity than celebrities, with reality-based TV often revealing subjects’ most vulnerable moments.
Devlon “DJ” Howard, a project manager at Cannaclusive and Florida State Director of Minorities for Medical Marijuana, said the narrative is most important no matter the type of celebrity.
“If your target market believes your company to be making moves for clout, their perception of the brand will be stained,” he said.
Jackson saw her star power grow on RuPaul’s Drag Race over two seasons. There, viewers saw her overt support for cannabis. The two seasons also provided a story arch that saw her go from reviled to a redeemed fan favorite.
Jackson’s star has continued to shine since, advocating, performing, and embarking on numerous other shows and media appearances. In recent years, she’s forged brand deals with cannabis companies like PAX and Honey Pot Hemp.
During the pandemic, “I was making a full-time living off social media,” said Jackson, without sharing figures.
With pre-pandemic opportunities returning, the revenue is more on a supplemental level, covering roughly 20% of her earnings. She now prefers to be more selective with brands, lessening partnerships to just companies that support LGBTQ+ efforts year-round.
“I sometimes feel like I’m an infomercial,” she said.
Survivor star and season 3 winner Ethan Zohn is another fan favorite. A two-time cancer survivor, his recovery and several seasons on the show propelled him into endeavors, including co-founding the youth organization Grassroots Soccer and running the 2022 Boston Marathon.
As part of his Boston Marathon endeavor, he joined MSO Trulieve (OTC( TCNNF) as a brand ambassador for its wellness line, Momenta.
“It aligned with them and me,” Zohn said of the shared vision around plant research, education and consistent products.
He did not disclose deal figures or company ROI expectations. In a statement to Green Market Report, Trulieve elaborated that initial goals center on Zohn promoting brand awareness, stigma erosion, and health and wellness education at in-person and digital events.
The initiative is the latest in cannabis for Zohn, an investor and chief purpose officer for Vermont-based hemp brand Montkush. Friend and Oxyclean star Anthony Sullivan founded the farm.
Zohn also emphasized the importance of endorsement authenticity.
“There needs to be a little bit of a personal connection from celebrity to the consumer,” he said. Zohn, a former professional soccer player, feels athletes can deliver a similar impact.
Alignment And Trust Key
Sales remain a critical metric, with social media reach and engagements also pivotal. Still, it isn’t entirely clear how effective reality stars or other notable figures are.
Anthony Scotti, founder of Colorado cultivator Cherry Cannabis, partnered with hip hop star N.O.R.E.
“When teaming up with a celebrity to push the brand, it allows us to reach a large audience that we wouldn’t have the opportunity to get in front of otherwise,” said Scotti. He cited media coverage as a critical ROI.
Scotti stated that brands should feel confident the celebrity will endorse the company correctly.
“A company must trust that the individual will conduct themselves in a way that uplifts and supports the brand,” he said, reporting no issues so far.
Scotti added, “The more trust you build, the better it is for the brands in the cannabis industry.”