Adolfo Gonzalez:

Why changing cultivar names is hurting your brand

Photo: Ryan Lange via Unsplash

This is the second in a three-part series addressing issues in cannabis marketing strategies, by Adolfo Gonzalez, a cannabis educator, entrepreneur and member of Inside the Jar’s editorial board.

Let’s start with a disclaimer.

There are many valid reasons to change a cultivar’s name. For example, the names ‘Green Crack’ or ‘God’s Vagina’ will not be approved in many jurisdictions, nor would most companies feel comfortable with sporting such names on their product packaging. In other cases, some cultivar names infringe upon existing trademarks, like ‘Bruce Banner’ and ‘Girl Scout Cookies’. This article is not about those instances. This is about the common practice of culturally baseless, willy-nilly name-changing and the effects that this trend has on a company’s brand reputation.

If you haven't noticed, you might be hard-pressed to find a micro producer who creates names for cultivars out of thin air, or claims ‘in-house’ or proprietary genetics with no mention of ancestry. It appears that only larger companies somehow fail to see that drawing from the established cultural framework is not only a strength, but a necessary component for longterm brand viability.

How tone-deaf does a publicly traded giant need to be in order to fail to realize that well-established market names are their strongest allies in winning over the hearts and minds of the existing consumer base? Many cannabis consumers are not new to this. Companies who do not learn to speak the native tongue and follow existing etiquette are almost certainly bound for failure.

Effective marketing is about moving with trends, not against them. An effective brand must aim to become part of a tribe, not its colonizer.

I know that there are likely some people out there reading the title above, thinking, ‘I don't know anything about names or ancestry, and most people don't. Brands like Budweiser and Naked Grape sell, and entry-level consumer brands tend to make lots of money!’

Yes, those things are true. But this argument actually does nothing but prove the core point of this article.

You may not know that Budweiser is a lager, but trust me, the people at Budweiser know, and they make sure to tell you on the label. This company spends a lot of effort ensuring that their formula stays true to the flavour and overall character that is expected of a German-style lager beer. No, it’s not the best, but it’s drinkable, and all adjoined marketing relies in part on these classic, well-established product categories and terminology. It has always been this way with beer.

Even Budweiser, a brand that is over 100 years old and possesses a massive advertising budget, still has to do certain things in order to meet certain expectations and standards in terms of quality, labelling and brand authenticity.

No brand in a space like beer, wine, coffee, or cannabis will build a timeless name for itself without at least feigning some degree of product expertise and delivering a somewhat palatable product to market. Period.

When it comes to cannabis, there is one immutable law: good cannabis starts with good genetics. And it takes a good breeder to make a desirable market-ready genetic (unless someone got really lucky. Like lottery-winning lucky. Not the type of lucky you want to bet your company on).

There are so many rockstar breeders in Canada, but no one seems in a big rush to be the first to officially represent their product in the legal market. By choosing to establish ties with the right breeder and the right cultivar name, return on investment will be more than worthwhile for the savvy producer.

The companies who first deliver our most beloved genetics in their full splendour, to the ready and desperately waiting regulated market, will become legends in their own right. Having this direct relationship with the original breeder front and centre is essentially the badge of authenticity that will assure the consumer they are getting not just the real deal, but the best version (genetically speaking) of the cultivar they love.

No winery makes top-shelf wine without the ability to determine what great wine is, or without respect for how great wine is made. Cannabis companies need to understand that we are in the same game, and genetics are the beginning of any great cannabis product.

Pride and transparency around the genetic makeup of the flower you sell is not a nice-to-have, but a must in the eyes of the most influential consumers. It is also an essential component of building an authentic and passionate company culture.

Cannabinoid and terpene information, though also vital components for understanding any cultivar, will never tell the full story. Traditional cultivar names connect us to a particular time, a place, or a person. They describe a nuanced flavour that data points cannot define. They deepen the experience, and, culturally, they feel both accurate and more intuitive.