It's hard being in the marijuana business these days. Banks don’t want to stash your cash. The federal government looks at you like you're crazy when you explain what you do. Now it turns out advertising agencies have problems with your business too, although, they're happy to take your money.
Weedmaps, a private business based in Irvine, California, has 65 employees and $30 million in annual revenue. It connects legal marijuana dispensaries and ancillary businesses with patients approved to use medical marijuana in states where it's legal. (There are 20 of those, plus the Distirct of Columbia.) It has 4,000 customers and it wants to launch an informational campaign in New York State, which is considering legalizing medicinal marijuana use.
But its recent attempt at marketing the business, should serve as a cautionary tale for anyone whose business is at all controversial. And at the end of the day, even the most upstanding companies can disappoint you.
Weedmaps' first advertisement was to have appeared on CBS's 500-square-foot Times Square jumbotron, right above a Coldstone Creamery store, on Tuesday morning. The advertising agency that manages sales for CBS even told Weedmaps that morning the ad--an eight second spot consisting of a puff of smoke, followed by a smiley face and then the URL for Weedmaps New York--was going live. But when staffers went up to 42nd Street to check things out, they saw ads for Gulf petroleum products, Penguin Books and other companies, but nothing for Weedmaps.
A short while later, Weedmaps alleges it learned that the spot had been pulled at the last minute, pending review by lawyers.
"We have never done any advertising before, and this was our first foray into the public advertising space," says Justin Hartfield, chief executive of Weedmaps, who is baffled.
This winter, Hartfield, who sits on the board of the National Organization to Reform Marijuana Laws, says he learned the adverstiser, called Neutron Media, of New York, had reached out to the organization about placing a commercial on the CBS jumbotron in Times Square.
NORML, a nonprofit, didn’t have the resources, but Weedmaps did. So Hartfield did what any entrpreneur would do--he reached out to Neutron and said he wanted to run a spot for his company and his New York campaign.
Neutron took the business, and this winter Weedmaps signed a contract for a 60-day spot, forked over close to $50,000, and then spent two months creating the advertisement.
Flash forward to April, and Neutron maintains there are no problems.
"As far as I am aware the ad has not been pulled, it's up for approval," says Ray Shapira, the account executive from Neutron in charge of Weedmaps' account. "But there's not a lot you can do when you're dealing with legal departments."
Shapira says one issue may be the location--above an ice cream parlor, in plain view of parents and their children. He adds he thinks the delay should only last a day or so.
As for Hartfield, he's trying to remain optimistic, but he's still miffed.
"The ad was innocuous, and it's 2014" Hartfield says. "It's kind of a sad commentary of where our society and culture is."
A CBS spokewoman said CBS does not decide which ads run on its jumbotron, and that Neutron manages ad sales. A Weedmaps spokesman says the company has written correspondance from Neutron that says CBS has final approval of advertisements.