Extracted Episode 8: Explosive Design with Detonate Cannabis Agency

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Marketing in the cannabis industry is like nothing else. With strict and evolving regulations, it takes careful navigation and creative solutions for cannabis brands to stand apart. In our eighth episode, and our second of three “Live from Lift & Co. Expo” episodes, we talked with the guys at Detonate Cannabis Agency about marketing cannabis amid constant change.

Based in Toronto, Detonate Cannabis Agency specializes in designing packaging, print collateral, and trade show booths (including many of our favourites at Lift) for a range of LPs and cannabis accessory companies. They have worked with many of the industry’s top brands including HEXO, Edison, and Lift & Co, to name a few. Detonate’s President & CEO, Imraan Khan and Brand Manager, Taylor Keefe joined us to share their insights about the challenges and opportunities of branding and marketing cannabis here in Canada.


From corporate to cannabis.

Detonate started out working mostly with corporate clients and recently created a division that focuses solely on cannabis brands. Beyond the regulatory aspect, moving from corporate to the cannabis side has clear differences. For starters, Imraan and Taylor say things happen much more quickly in the cannabis space. As Imraan points out, “One of the other big things I’ve found is when you work in corporate and you work with those big companies, it’s so many levels to go through to get something done and it takes so long…” Taylor, who comes from a market research background says working in the ever-changing cannabis industry is never boring.

“There’s so much change, every day is different. Every day is more exciting than the one before it.”

Despite the fast pace and moving targets, Taylor takes comfort in the fact that in this is relatively new industry, everyone is essentially in the same boat. “Everybody’s figuring this out for the first time.”

Balancing creativity and compliance.

The current marketing restrictions for cannabis certainly level the playing field. Ultimately it’s up to LP’s to determine how far they’re willing to push things creatively. “At the end of the day, these laws are interpretations.” Taylor says. “Everyone’s compliance and legal team has a different way of interpreting these things.” He offers up the example of a cannabis brand who determined that an image of a van was too “lifestyley.” And as we know, “lifestyle” is a bad word when it comes to marketing cannabis. While the regulations may seem overly strict now, the team at Detonate is optimistic that these limitations won’t last.

“We are under the belief and understanding that this is a temporary barrier right now across the industry that is a little bit more strict than tobacco in North America but should be probably as strict, if not less strict than how alcohol is branded and marketed.”

For the time being, differentiating products is a difficult challenge. In the absence of evocative branding and packaging, Taylor says the product has to speak for itself. “When you’re relying on your product to do all the talking and goodwill with the consumer, you better hope that product comes out shining.”


An industry like no other.

Marketing cannabis has a distinct learning curve. Those who come from different industries quickly learn they don’t have the typical arsenal of marketing tools at their disposal. Taylor says another thing that makes the cannabis industry unique is the lack of consumer data. He mentions there’s plenty of great branding out there but without data, it’s next to impossible to measure its effectiveness. “It’s being thrown against the wall and we’ll see if it sticks.”

“You have to start with who your consumer is, not who you think they are, who they actually are.”


Consumables are coming.

The legalization of edibles this October will add another level to Detonate’s packaging offering. So what do they think of the draft edibles regulations? Imraan says that while it’s not ideal, some of the initial concerns are being overly scrutinized. “I think people are making a big deal about something in packaging. He adds, “I get it, it’s bad. But it’s a new industry with new products that have to evolve to get to a point where we can then start reducing.”

Cannabis means change.

Beyond their work in design, Detonate sees a bigger picture for cannabis: the ability to create change. Taylor says that change is experienced by “anyone who has ever interacted with cannabis in their life,” and reaffirms that a product, cannabis will always be evolving. Imraan echoes the same sentiment saying, “Cannabis is the future.” It’s something they’ll surely keep in mind as they continue to lead the country’s top cannabis brands into new frontiers.

“Cannabis is going to change our economy. It’s going to change individuals, and lifestyles. It’s going to change the pharmaceutical industry. It’s going to change this country forever…”


Listen to the full episode for more cultivation insights and stay tuned for more episodes live from Lift.