Marijuana legalization has reshaped cannabis marketing on Instagram, study finds
According to a recent study, the legalization of marijuana has dramatically changed cannabis marketing on Instagram.
In the study titled “From Deal to Influence: Online Marketing of Cannabis on Instagramand published in the international journal Crime, Media, Culture last month, researchers Silje Anderdal Bakken and Sidsel Kirstine Harder of the University of Copenhagen, Denmark, compared 60 Instagram profiles belonging to illegal Swedish drug traffickers to 70 profiles of cannabis influencers based in the United States or Canada, most are owned by women.
They found that cannabis influencers on Instagram were changing the stereotypical characteristics of illegal cannabis culture, almost entirely dominated by men, into one where cannabis is depicted as a desirable accessory in some female lifestyles.
“The role of influencers in transforming cannabis culture to become more mainstream and acceptable to women could potentially affect cannabis cultures globally, as well as ongoing legalization debates,” says the study.
Social media platforms, including Meta’s Facebook and Instagram, Twitter and TikTok, block cannabis companies from allowing paid ads for their products and services. Therefore, cannabis influencers operate in a legal gray area, where they are allowed to promote their personal cannabis use and recommendations without offering direct sales.
The study noted that while illegal dealers focus on selling cannabis anonymously, influencers market cannabis as part of their daily lives.
The differences between legal and illegal cannabis marketing on Instagram show how social media marketing could impact a cultural shift towards cannabis becoming a normalized practice and can trigger cultural change.
Analyzing the Instagram profile of 70 Swedish illegal sellers, the researchers noted that the most common characteristics they shared were anonymity, risk calculation and amateurism. Most of the profiles rarely included human traits and their product images were captioned with short texts.
“Swedish drug dealers on Instagram stray completely from their profiles and seem to focus solely on their illegal activity, as their professionalism seems tied to their subculture and present themselves as trustworthy sellers of an illegal substance” , says the study.
Cannabis in Sweden is illegal for medical and recreational purposes, and its possession is a criminal offence. However, the medical use of cannabis-based drugs is only permitted for specific conditions. Therefore, this is probably the main reason why drug dealers minimize the risk of being detected or shut down by Instagram and local Swedish law enforcement for promoting illegal activities.
The researchers also examined the public Instagram profiles of 70 cannabis influencers located in the United States or Canada, focusing their analysis on posted images and related textual data, including captions, comments and short biographies. in profile.
While none of the 60 dealer profiles taken into account in the study specified their gender, almost all of the cannabis influencers presented themselves as women (less than 10% of the 70 influencer profiles collected did not include the names of women or bodies identifying with women).
Researchers noted that cannabis influencers post engaging content images, and some of them linked their profile and cannabis use to their gender by posting female objects and topics.
They showcase cannabis on Instagram in stylish ways, posting photographic landscapes of cannabis fields or, more commonly, designing flat lays (photos taken from above) and showcasing cannabis in colors such as pink and white, as opposed to the dusty green and brown colors of raw cannabis shown by the dealers considered in the study.
This difference in style may suggest that drug traffickers use Instagram more as a tool to connect with potential customers than as a showcase to showcase their wares. In fact, their strategy is to educate subscribers on how to contact them on encrypted apps, such as Telegram or Wickr, to complete the purchase of cannabis products.
In contrast, cannabis influencers associate cannabis with their personal life and show how they use it.
According to the study, while cannabis marketers on Instagram enforce stereotypes about subculture, masculinity and risky dealings, cannabis influencers portray cannabis and related products as natural and safe for anyone attracted to it. the lifestyle of influencers.
In particular, the researchers noted that cannabis influencers portray themselves in a very traditionally feminine way, showing women’s bodies as feminine, fashionable, and sexual. But at the same time, they actively like to “get high” and recommend it to other women.
Cannabis influencers in the study associate their cannabis use or marketing with common activities, including going to the beach or a park, hanging out with friends, or walking down the street.
This approach can be interpreted as an effort to transform the illegal subculture of cannabis use into a mainstream activity.
In contrast, the profiles of illegal dealers do not reveal any personal information about themselves.
According to the study, female cannabis influencers are making cannabis mainstream by linking cannabis use and products to their daily activities.
A similar approach described in the study could be found in the 1920s when the tobacco industry started introducing new brands only for women. Similarly, researchers say that today’s cannabis industry encourages women to smoke cannabis by promoting social acceptance.
“Social media like Instagram allows cannabis influencers to spread their messages about cannabis as an accepted consumer product to millions of people of various ages, genders and nationalities. While all the profiles of illegal dealers observed on Instagram focus on men or gender neutrality in their product presentation, cannabis influencers present themselves as women and their cannabis products as ordinary or ideal female accessories,” the study concludes.