Why Michigan Roads Are Covered With Recreational Marijuana Billboards

Kyran Adams’ face has been recognized by many strangers this summer.

For Father’s Day, his wife and brother bought ads on three digital billboards to recognize him: one in Texas, where he lives, in New Mexico, where he’s nearby, and in his native Michigan.

“You’re famous, you’re on a billboard,” said Adams, who retired about a year ago after a quarter century as a military photographer.

His wife initially had trouble finding available billboards in Texas and Michigan.

That’s not uncommon in Michigan, where the booming recreational marijuana industry has already surpassed $1 billion in sales and is expected to reach $3 billion in the coming years. With other advertising options like TV and radio limited for cannabis companies due to laws – marijuana remains federally illegal and advertising cannot cross Michigan borders – cannabis companies are buying a large chunk of available space on bulletin boards in the Mittens State.

Nationally, the billboard industry just saw its strongest quarterly growth on record and the $4.2 billion-a-year industry is seeing strong growth in cannabis, although it’s not growth as big as politics and gambling, in part because recreational marijuana is only legal in 19 states and the District of Columbia, and many of those states are more restrictive than Michigan on outdoor advertising.

Outdoor cannabis advertising grew 31% year-to-date to summer, one of four emerging or high-growth product categories highlighted by the national association in its June quarterly update.

Michigan has the third-most billboards in the nation, behind only Florida and Texas, according to Scenic America, a group that strives to rule billboards. However, none of these southern states have legalized marijuana for recreational use, leaving Michigan with the most billboards among states where marijuana is legal.

There is no official tally of marijuana billboards in the state: the Michigan Department of Transportation monitors and maps all billboards on state highways. But the state doesn’t track billboard content, nor does the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Agency. There are likely more cannabis billboards in Michigan than any other state as the billboard industry recovers from the pandemic and marijuana ads are more than welcome, according to the Outdoor. Advertising Association of America.

If First Impressions Matter, Michigan Is A Stoner State

A commercial marijuana billboard on Saginaw Street near the Frandor Mall Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022 in Lansing.

Billboards were the early kings of marijuana advertising in Michigan and still play an outsized role even as other forms — social media ads and highly targeted direct mail — are catching up, Mike Berro said. , CEO of Ferndale-based Qonkur & Company. He said his agency is the largest cannabis marketing group in Michigan and spans eight states.

Nationally, 42% of cannabis advertising is on billboards or other outdoor formats like park benches or smaller posters, according to Kantar tracking data from the Out of Home. Advertising Association of America, a trade group.

Berro’s company, he said, handled about 75% of cannabis billboard purchases in the state, most made through New York-based OUTFRONT Media. He said that equates to about 6,200 billboards, not including digital billboards that can display a rotation of ads.

You wouldn’t imagine, the air is filled with marijuana billboards.

Legal rules around cannabis advertising make traditional forms difficult and sometimes impossible for cannabis companies, said Laura-may Keohane, senior public relations manager for Weedmaps, a marijuana tech company that has advertising signs. display in Michigan.

There are restrictions on how companies can advertise on social media and further restrictions on more traditional forms like television and radio. Magazines and other forms of advertising can often cross state lines, being subject to different sets of restrictions.

According to the Out of Home Advertising Association of America, which reviewed policies across the country, state law does not allow the display of marijuana products on billboards. Michigan regulations are more permissive than most states.

Make a “good impression”

Billboards can be effective, not for all businesses, but they can reach captive audiences while driving and help boost a business, said Joumana Kayrouz, a Michigan attorney who once set a record for the number of billboards in the state, with nearly 160 featuring her or her business. Some of her billboards with a dark blue background depicted her and the words: “HURT? CALL JOUMANA 866-YOUR-RIGHTS.

A marijuana business billboard on Cedar Street Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022, in Lansing.

“I’m a big fan of billboards and advertising, it takes service and skill to back it up, but it can be effective,” she said. “I’m a very visual person, I think more people are visual than auditory and that makes a good impression.”

Customers “feel more comfortable than ever about the presence of this category,” according to an analysis of cannabis advertising by OUTFRONT, which is second only to Lamar Advertising in number of billboards in Michigan. , according to data from the State Department of Transportation.

The state’s newest big industry has breathed new life into one of the oldest forms of advertising, dominating the roads with thinly veiled references to marijuana.

Berro, the marijuana advertising manager at Ferndale, said the billboard strategy is changing.

The days of covering an area with billboards are starting to fade and it will become more focused as cannabis companies get better data on their customers, he said.

Expect fewer and more targeted billboards as the industry matures, Berro said.

But don’t expect the landscape to change so quickly.

Vices and billboards

There are still fundamental reasons why billboards and the pot go together.

Vices are attracted to billboards.

A Duke University archive of more than 31,000 billboards is led by beer, whiskey, cigarettes, and liquor. Coca-Cola and its assorted soft drinks are the only other company to make the top five.

Probably the biggest blow to the billboard industry was the loss of tobacco advertising in the 1990s in a litigation settlement sought by most states, including Michigan. With the Marlboro Man’s last ride in 1999, the loss of smokers dented the outdoor advertising industry and he was once almost left for dead, said Robert Kolt, a professor of practice at Michigan State University. and public relations professional. .

Today, billboard advertising is more diverse.

Companies like Amazon, Disney and Apple are big players in the airspace, and the ads still allow alcohol and marijuana advertising, with restrictions on targeting minors.

But the king is McDonalds, which spends more on outdoor advertising than any other company.

What works for billboards may be brand awareness, for hospitals and Rolex watches, but the most common things are the things that are easy to get, easy to remember and easy to buy, Kolt said.

Billboards can help differentiate a product or build brand awareness, cannabis ads may have been more common than other examples since the days of tobacco, but it’s a good model broken in, he said.

Public health concerns

The rapid popularity of billboards for pot companies has some public health experts concerned.

Ashley Gearhardt, an associate professor of psychology at the University of Michigan, has studied alcohol, tobacco and fast food advertising, including working with nearly 200 teenagers to study how fast food advertisements affect their brains by encouraging unhealthy habits.

She said there is growing research showing similar patterns of teens taking up cannabis and she recommends limiting billboards, which can be seen by children and teens.

Gearhardt said the tobacco example shows it is possible to keep the product legal and available but reduce advertising that reaches children and teenagers.

A commercial marijuana billboard at the intersection of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard and Saginaw Street Wednesday, Sept. 7, 2022 in Lansing.
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