Aurora, Aphria, and MedReleaf, the three key players in medicinal marijuana in Canada, communicate with customers and investors through the use of social media, company websites, and press releases as a means to promote their companies, engage with customers, and provide information on medicinal marijuana.
It is not currently legal to develop and share direct advertisements for medicinal cannabis in Canada. Canadian cannabis producers are lobbying for looser rules when it comes to promoting cannabis for public consumption; however, at this time they are limited to indirect media outlets.
An overview of communications by key players is presented below.
Aurora gears its communications towards young people, actively promoting the concept of wellness on its blog and Twitter while reserving press releases for communicating business and industry information. While the company also uses Facebook and Instagram to communicate with the public, Facebook is used primarily to cross-post between other platforms and Instagram is rarely used.
Aurora is the only company that features customer communications and retweets on its Twitter feed. Its tweets feature polls, customer support, Q&As, links to other social media the company uses, tips, and holiday announcements such as International Women's Day and Pink Shirt Day. It also tweets information on its B2B service and pins these tweets to the top of the feed, marking them as those of the highest importance. While Aurora also uses Instagram, at the time of research its feed contained only 10 posts, and 2 of these posts focused on the fight for looser legislation regarding the promotion of cannabis in Canada. Finally, Aurora uses Facebook to cross-post between its other social media platforms. Posts focus on community engagement through questions, contests, and events as well as medical and legal usage information.
Aurora's blog has a wellness theme, and contains informational articles, tips, lists, and guides. The most shared articles include: Antioxidant Rich Foods, Contest Rules, Women in Cannabis, and How Our Sedentary Lives are Killing Us.
Aurora uses the Frequently Asked Questions page of its company website as a means to communicate primarily with the public. It presents information about medicinal marijuana, Canadian laws, usage registration, products, pricing, and insurance.
Aurora's press releases are business- and investor- oriented and offer information regarding the company's activities and developments within the medicinal marijuana industry. Press releases focus on leadership and financials and include topics such as acquisitions and investments, employee appointments, licensing, awards, and program updates.
Aphria's communications extend beyond the Canadian market, presenting information on the global market as well as the science behind what they do. The company actively uses social media as a means of communication; however, its extensive cross-posting causes the feeds to be uniform and redundant across platforms. While some business information is posted on social media, most is communicated via press release.
Canadian Aphria's Facebook page includes posts on contests, hiring announcements, holiday celebrations, and videos about company developments such as the construction of a greenhouse. The company also uses Facebook to share sourced posts such as third-party articles about cannabis. While Aphria's Twitter feed is nearly identical to its Facebook page, Aphria does not feature retweets or communications with customers. At the time of research, Aphria's Instagram feed contained 64 posts. While a majority of these posts are cross-posted across Facebook, Twitter, and the company's website, Aphria uses Instagram in particular to promote medicinal marijuana, provide usage information, and highlight company staff and awards. Overall, Instagram is the most diverse and unique of Aphria's social media platforms.
The blog for Aphria's Canadian branch presents information geared to the general public. It includes articles, contests, recipes, tips, FAQs, and how-to's.
Aphria's website communicates "the Aphria Advantage" and is Aphria's form of communication that most closely resembles a direct advertisement. The company highlights its value proposition and explains why it is the leading producer of medicinal marijuana. Order and registration information, clinic locations, and FAQs are also featured.
Similar to Aurora, Aphria orients its press releases toward industry professionals and investors. They focus primarily on acquisitions, financials, and company leadership.
While MedReleaf is the only key player without an Instagram account or blog, it is the only one that has a LinkedIn page, which suggests an attempt to appeal to an older, more professional consumer base. Overall, MedReleaf is more focused on the business aspects of the company and less on "fun" things such as quizzes and contests. Communications are more text-heavy than those of Aurora and Aphria, which feature more images and videos.
MedReleaf uses LinkedIn to display financials and leadership news and cross-post this information to other social media platforms, garnering nearly 4000 LinkedIn followers. The company uses Twitter primarily to promote products and offer pricing. Its top pinned tweet presents the awards the company has won as well as information about company leadership. MedReleaf's Facebook page is almost identical to its Twitter feed and is used to promote products, pricing, and patient discount programs.
MedReleaf does not have a blog.
Similar to Aphria, MedReleaf uses its website to communicate "the MedReleaf Advantage." However, the copy presented is even more closely related to an advertisement. It states that MedReleaf "sets the Medical Grade Standard™ for cannabis," is "[t]he first and only ISO 9001 certified cannabis producer in North America," and "delivers a variety of premium products to patients seeking safe, consistent and effective medical cannabis." The website also communicates six distinguishing features of MedReleaf and information on how to become a patient.
Like its competitors, MedReleaf Canada uses press releases to highlight financials and company leadership. The information presented is very similar to that communicated via LinkedIn.
POTENTIAL FUTURE COMMUNICATIONS
Cannabis producers in Canada continue to lobby for less strict rules regarding the promotion of public cannabis consumption. According to Cam Battley, executive vice-president of Aurora, "There is ample evidence to show that marijuana is a more benign substance than alcohol. We believe there’ll be a substitution effect on alcohol by cannabis products. That’s why there’s no need to do anything different when it comes to advertising.” As the sixteen producers engaged in lobbying control more than 90 percent of the legal medicinal marijuana market in Canada, it is possible that continued pressure will lead to looser communications regulations, allowing producers to mimic alcohol companies in their campaigns. However, weed analysts such as Vahan Ajamian at Beacon Securities are not hopeful. According to Ajamian, “Unless it’s a [Liquor Control Board of Ontario]-type model where the government owns the distributor, it is likely that they will continue leaning towards a tobacco-type model. The last thing the government wants is to be deemed as irresponsible in this legalization process.”
The primary channels of communications from the key players in medicinal marijuana in Canada (Aurora, Aphria, and MedReleaf) are social media, blogs, company websites, and press releases. Communications vary by company; while Aurora and Aphria focus on social media posts to attract a younger clientele through community engagement and information on products and usage, MedReleaf focuses on company leadership, business information, and scientific research via LinkedIn and press releases to communicate with an older, more professional demographic. While producers and proponents of medicinal marijuana usage continue to advocate for looser government regulations regarding the direct advertisement of medicinal marijuana, analysts do not anticipate government cooperation in the near future. Unless guidelines change, medicinal marijuana producers will continue to be limited, forced to focus on social media and company websites rather than direct print, TV, and digital communications campaigns.