A decade ago, Vice was getting so many requests from brands on how to more effectively market to the media company’s young audience that it officially launched its own creative agency called Virtue. CEO Shane Smith said at the time, “Our whole modus operandi was not to bullshit. We decided to set up this separate wing that could leverage our talent but also be a separate company to help brands reach this demographic.”
Now former Virtue execs are taking that exact premise into the cannabis industry by officially launching a new agency this week called Gram by Gram, an offshoot of the Merry Jane digital media company founded by Snoop Dogg and Ted Chung. Led by president Ryan Archibald and chief strategy officer Badr El Fekkak, Gram by Gram is headquartered in Toronto, with offices in Los Angeles, Mexico City, and London, offering brand strategy, marketing and B2B services, and culturally relevant content to brands hoping to tap into a global cannabis market expected to hit $166 billion by 2025.
“All these requests are coming about, asking about the culture and how to properly access it,” says Archibald, who spent 14 years at Vice, and oversaw Virtue in Canada. “They were asking about marketing and brand identity and things like that. So there was definitely a need to launch a separate entity from Merry Jane as pure agency services.”
There are obviously gaggles of other ad agencies in the world, but not many have dipped into the cannabis market. There are cannabis-focused, regional agencies like Toronto-based Crowns, Seattle’s Wick & Mortar, and Denver’s Cannabrand. And Anomaly has a stake in and helped launch Dosist (formerly hmbldt). Fewer still, if any, can boast the cultural connection bonafides of Gram by Gram by way of its sibling Merry Jane. Rarest of all are those with an international presence. It’s the same pitch that Vice had so many years ago: Who knows our audience better than we do? Merry Jane’s major brand partners so far have included Lyft and Jack in the Box. For the former, the agency helped create a safe ride program around the media company’s many festivals and events. And it helped the fast feeder create a special edition Munchies Meal.
“It’s about being embedded in these communities,” says Archibald, who joined the company three months ago. “We’re connecting them into cannabis culture and helping them partake in that space.”
Within the cannabis industry, Gram by Gram has already landed a heavyweight client in $11 billion company Canopy Growth, servicing its portfolio of brands, which include Tweed and Leafs by Snoop, as well as working on new brand launches.
The other advantage Archibald sees is the agency’s ability to connect and talk to the culture, while also walking the spiderweb of regulatory tight ropes surrounding the fledgling consumer cannabis industry.
“It’s another whole creative process,” says Archibald. “How can you . . . create a message that meets regulatory standards but is still somehow emotional and meaningful? That’s exactly what we’re helping people solve.”
El Fekkak says from a strategic perspective, it’s about doing the consumer research that hasn’t yet been established in such a new industry, then helping brands figure out how to find the right channels to reach out to that audience with the right messaging. “Sometimes legalization or the legal framework is ahead of the social framework, so you’d have to be very careful in how you then position your brand,” he says. “A lot of the research we’re doing is around market entry that is geo-specific, and helping brands scale in those markets.”