Today you can’t turn on the TV or log onto social media without seeing some version of the PR war raging regarding various vices. The debate between which vices are “worse” than others is an ancient one, and it rarely even acknowledges the legality of said vices. The most current contestants pair marijuana in one corner and either alcohol or tobacco in the other.
It’s no secret that both alcohol and tobacco have powerful lobbies and highly organized and impactful PR teams working on their behalf. The law literally forces tobacco companies to put warnings on their products, and people still love them. And you can bet, if some consumers could not care less that “this product causes cancer” then they are not likely to worry overmuch about another product being illegal. In fact, pot PR is so pervasive that people are successfully arguing for its legalization while admitting to breaking the law.
This public relations war shows both the power of public pressure and the power of building and maintaining a strong fan base. Beer drinkers LOVE their product and let everyone know it. Even as they are progressively more banished from society, smokers continue to light up. And, for pot smokers, ‘puff puff pass’ has become pop culture cliché.
Each product has a simple but multifaceted PR message that is eagerly carried and distributed by ardent fans. An aspect of this PR plan includes creating a mystique, engendering brotherhood among users and connecting their products directly with good times and higher self-esteem. The message – from all three products is this: You will feel good and have friends if you do this.
That’s a powerful message that easily cuts through concerns about health, legality and social standing. People eagerly assume risks they are legally bound to notice because of the power and successful PR culture created by each of these products. Notice “culture” not “message”. When trying to create a movement or a fan base, simply selling a product or delivering a message is not enough. You have to establish and expand a culture.
Consumers will initially embrace that culture and then be swallowed by it, eagerly becoming part of something they see as a greater extension of who they are or who they want to be.