Two new and very interesting markets have emerged into the light recently; cannabis and space.
The first paid up space tourists – punternauts if you will – have their tickets in hand and are now waiting patiently for a launch date from Musk, Branson or Bezos.
Riding high on a wave of legalisation, stateside cannabis manufacturers have been rolling up investor cash in a competition to become the first mainstream cannabis brand, soon to be followed by their Canadian counterparts.
Both categories should throw out some innovative, exciting and cutting edge approaches to branding, but at the moment, it’s all looking very predictable.
The different directions of cannabis branding are starting to be seen. The evolutions of Space X, Galactic and Blue Origin into consumer facing, space tourist brands are further away, but with both categories it doesn’t take much to prophesise the potential outline of their respective fates; a major category-wide crisis.
Be it a class action claiming the psychological side effects of cannabis were not made clear, or the live-streamed fiery death of a paying space tourist – the realisation of some version of those risks will have a material effect on the ability of brands in either category to operate, sell, market, attract investment or even continue to exist.
Space and cannabis are both exciting fledgling markets with enormous social, cultural and financial promise. Businesses are being born onto blank canvasses with the power to set the parameters and expectations for customers, regulators, investors and the wider interested public. This presents a short-term opportunity for individual gain, but the long-term success of both categories depends on these companies pricing predictable risks into the creation of their brands. That approach will give the survivors of a category crisis the resilience to withstand the consequences; drops in investor confidence, poor financial performance, trust and subsequent product failure.
Looking first to space: astronauts, painstakingly selected from the best and flying with the full weight of NASA behind them, have a 4% chance of death. NASA has experienced two televised deadly explosions, but it endures federal budget cycles as people understand its purpose is for the advancement of humanity.
The commercial space flyers won’t have the same luxury if they are perceived as a billionaire’s folly, putting any space cowboy with cash into orbit.
For the foreseeable future, space tourism will probably remain the pursuit of the ultra-wealthy, but as Christie’s publicity tour of Da Vinci’s Salvator Mundi painting illustrated last year, the exclusive should be marketed to the masses so the handful of potential buyers know their multi-millions are also buying cultural kudos.
Space X et al will need to create brands that credibly position punternauts as intrepid adventurers – cousins of the original astronauts – who are risking their lives in the pursuit of spreading humanity beyond earth. That narrative will be a plausible evolution from their current ones and will price the risk of catastrophe into the brand, protecting value in the long-term.
The cannabis businesses face a more immediate decision; short-term gains vs. long term success. There are hundreds of brands emerging from the burgeoning cottage industry in the states, but if you look at the big players the current brand narratives are all disappointingly well-trodden covers including, ‘transparent on-pack info’, ‘people like you use this product’, ‘this product is good for your well-being’ and current chart topper ‘my brand is culturally relevant to you’.
These approaches may make short-term gains from selling a lifestyle, but, as with space tourism, the long-term success of these brands depends on creating a level of resilience to predictable risks. The current crop of cannabis business would be better off looking at the pharma industry rather than taking their lead from hipster coffee companies.
Both cannabis and space are in for an exciting ride. Where it ends up depends on how willing they are to honestly consider future risks and take a long-term view by pricing those risks into the creation of their brands.