Snoop Dogg just launched his own line of cannabis products under the brand name Leafs by Snoop. The approach is interesting for a few reasons. First, it’s tied heavily to a content strategy the celebrity recently established with a website named MerryJane. Second, it’s a celebrity-backed foray into the emerging legalized marijuana market – a sort of “Wild West” for brands. Third, Snoop has taken a thoughtful, strategic approach to the branding and packaging of his new line which, by the way, can only be purchased at locations in Colorado.
Michael Stone: How does Snoop’s new Leafs by Snoop compare with other celebrity lifestyle brands such as Gwyneth Paltrow’s GOOP and others?
Nicole Desir: The first thing to note is that Leafs by Snoop is very authentic. It’s tied to a lifestyle that Snoop has had since his early days in the music and film industry. It’s linked to who he is and what he enjoys. It doesn’t feel like something that was created for the sole purpose of commerce. When reading his Leafs website, it seems that he is genuinely trying to share his lifestyle.
Another aspect that is intriguing here is Snoop’s financial commitment. He’s investing in the site and product himself. He’s working with private equity – as are others like Willie Nelson with his own cannabis business, Gwyneth Paltrow with GOOP, and Jessica Alba with The Honest Company. This is unlike other celebrity brands that are commonly brought to market through a licensing business model. This financial arrangement requires the celebrity to have a financial and personal stake in the brand.
Snoop is going about this venture very strategically. Before introducing Leafs, he first launched MerryJane as a media site that promotes the cannabis lifestyle and culture, as well as a variety of brands in the space. In an age of content, it’s his content strategy that sets Snoop apart in what he’s done with MerryJane. He is a strong representative of the cannabis lifestyle and the site is curated in that way. It focuses on a variety of topics and points of view, so it appeals to a larger base. Then two months after launching MerryJane, he introduced Leafs. The way he’s going about doing this is methodical and well planned.
Stone: This is a completely new consumer market that didn’t exist a few years ago. Do the same rules apply when launching a product and assigning a celebrity’s name? Is there anything they should be doing differently?
Desir: Despite the newness of the market, and its outlaw history, this product line still requires that a celebrity ask the same questions: Is this a product category that’s aligned with me and the way I live my life? Is this a product category that fans and consumers will follow me into? What’s the level of risk for me to do this? And, a kind of new question – are there any legal risks associated with the cannabis category of which I should be aware? And, further, there are issues regarding trademark registrations, particularly federal registration, that need to be understood.
Stone: So there is risk?
Desir: There is risk for both the celebrity and his financial partners. The celebrity will risk whether cannabis products will resonate with fans and consumers and whether it will change their affinity for him or her. Will other business opportunities like endorsements and sponsorships be jeopardized? Also, whether or not the celebrity is the right fit for this proposition, long term, is, of course, a risk for financial partners. And, there are new laws and regulations that need to be considered.
In the case of the Leafs brand, if it were any other person – one who hadn’t espoused this lifestyle as directly as Snoop has – there could be a real risk in attaching their name to a very new industry that’s still illegal for recreational use in all but four states and in all states under federal law. The level of reputational risk could certainly be higher for someone other than Snoop.
Stone: Then, could a more mainstream celebrity break into this industry?
Desir: We don’t see most celebrities wanting to take that risk today. Think of someone else who has recently created an e-commerce site – like Ellen DeGeneres. At this point in time in the evolution of the marijuana industry, we don’t see Ellen attaching herself to marijuana products for the general population or for the audience that relates to her (in the few states where recreational use is legal). That doesn’t mean that other celebrities, male and female, won’t enter the fray in the future.
Stone: Speaking of taboo, does it hurt or help the brand that Snoop’s long-term ties to the product itself harken back to actual illicit activities?
Desir: For us, there’s an authenticity in that history. He was involved in this lifestyle long before any type of legalization. The majority of product in the United States is still consumed as an unlawful activity, and to us that adds a level of genuineness to Leafs which is sold legally in Colorado.
Snoop isn’t saying, “I’ve spent the past year learning everything I can, and now I’m bringing it to you.” Marijuana has been part of his lifestyle for decades. In his long term consumption, he can position himself as a master and a connoisseur. He’s an expert and the consumer believes it.
Stone: How it’s being presented to consumers is really interesting too.
Desir: Right. We are very impressed by the packaging, the logo, the design elements, visual identity. In interviews, the designer has said that this is a field in which Snoop is indeed a connoisseur, and they wanted the product to look upscale and to appeal to all types of consumers. The products, which include various strains of marijuana, chocolates, chews, gummies, and more, are packaged really beautifully.
But at the same time, they were trying to move away from some of the more expected imagery that would be associated with cannabis products. In doing so, they elevated it. They say they were inspired by the experience of unboxing an Apple product.
Stone: Is the visual approach in line with Snoop’s personal brand?
Desir: We don’t think anyone can tell you what a Snoop product is “supposed” to look like. The Snoop Dogg of the early ‘90s is different from the Snoop we know now. He’s more sophisticated and mature; his music has also evolved through the years.
He’s created a luxury-looking brand, a highly valued offering. The packaging designer intentionally moved away from a stereotypical and expected “Rasta, crunchy, outlaw” look that some might expect from a marijuana product. Consumers wouldn’t necessarily expect this type of packaging – it feels elegant. And that makes sense. The marijuana category is becoming very competitive in the markets where it’s legal. It speaks to Snoop’s business acumen that he’s going to great lengths to differentiate his line in this category.
It’s similar to the way we position a lot of celebrities in other lifestyle categories like beauty and fashion. The concept is that a celebrity is saying to consumers: “Based on my experience, I’m going to bring you the best of the best.” And so I think it’s connected to who he is and how he relates to this product category.
Stone: So what’s the key takeaway in Snoop’s approach?
Desir: Like with all celebrity-backed products, the key is authenticity. And this is where Snoop really nails it.
The evolution of cannabis culture mirrors Hip Hop in many ways. It’s moving from a niche – almost an underground scene – to a worldwide popular movement, becoming legal state by state and mainstream. And, although the product is now only available in Colorado, Snoop is smart to get a head start. It’s just a matter of time before other states start legalizing recreational marijuana (in addition to Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia have already done so) and Leafs will already be established as a successful brand, ready for expansion state-by-state. Leafs by Snoop is a testament to a movement that is becoming increasingly popular and to Snoop’s business acumen and his ability to capitalize on that movement.