“Branding Bud: The Commercialization of Cannabis” by David Paleschuck is the first book of its kind to offer solid best practices in branding and marketing to an industry in dire need of them. Yet, “Branding Bud” is more than just a simple B2B primer as it provides a fascinating overview of an estimated multibillion-dollar sector whose long and complicated history dates back to when forefathers George Washington and Thomas Jefferson grew hemp.
Fortuitously released on April 20, “Branding Bud” is clearly filling a void in the marketplace. Recently, the book catapulted to the top of Amazon’s bestsellers’ list as number one in the branding and logo design category.
A 58-year-old New York native and Seattle resident, Paleschuck amassed over twenty years of brand building and consumer marketing experience at blue-chip companies such as American Express and Microsoft, before parlaying his expertise to the legal cannabis industry. There he has held roles that include serving as vice president of licensing and brand partnerships at Dope Magazine and chief brand officer at Evergreen Herbal and The Matters Group. With his background, Paleschuck was a natural to write a book on cannabis branding. That didn’t come without snags, though.
This interview has been edited for conciseness and clarity.
Iris Dorbian: What made you want to write this book?
David Paleschuck: There were so many misunderstandings and misconceptions about the plant and the culture. My goal is to normalize the plant.
Dorbian: How long did it take for you to write the book?
Paleschuck: The book took me five years to write. I wrote the book two times. As I was writing the book, the laws were changing underneath me. Brands were coming and going or they were rebranding. For example, when Washington state [required] a limited color palette for cannabis packaging, all of sudden some brands needed to recolorize.
Dorbian: What was your favorite aspect of writing the book? Conversely, what did you find the most problematic?
Paleschuck: As a branding and marketing person who always looks at things at the meta level and sees trends, the most amazing thing was this clarity. There are brand archetypes, and they keep on repeating themselves and in different ways in different states. If somebody is really into the cultivators, that’s an archetype. Or there are nostalgic brands. So really it was that epiphany: Now I see what’s going on. For me, that was the most exciting. Also, this is the first book on cannabis branding.
[Most problematic] is that the laws and rules [are always] changing. But as I interviewed people, I realized there were two different perspectives: those were from the medical folks and the commercial folks. Then there were entrepreneurs talking about the commerce and their return on investment. That has been a minefield. I needed to be mindful of the legacy of the plant but also of the different perspectives of the people who have been in the industry for a long time and those coming into the industry.
Dorbian: I was very fascinated by the outsider and insider audience segments for cannabis that you cite in the book, using the Matters Group report. Was that something you always knew about as a marketer or did you just find out about it when conducting research for the book?
Paleschuck: As a brander and marketer for 30 or 40 years, I intuitively knew that. In many ways, growing up as a skateboarder, I always knew there were insiders and outsiders. Any elementary kid knows that, too. It was that specific report related to cannabis consumer segments that sort of solidified it for me and I said, ‘Cool! I can use it to talk about cannabis consumers.’
Dorbian: What surprised you most when working on this book?
Paleschuck: I was surprised at the connection between [Federal Bureau of Narcotics’ first Commissioner] Harry Anslinger; [ex-U.S. Treasury Secretary] Andrew Mellon, [the uncle of Anslinger’s wife]; and the Weyerhaeuser and DuPont corporations especially related to their businesses focused on land timber, paper and pulp, oil, etc. One of the reasons why hemp was prohibited was because of the Weyerhaeuser family, the Hearst family and Anslinger’s wife. It would put the tree pulp people out of business and they would print on hemp. There was a tie-in in that sense and probably some conspiracy around Anslinger’s move to put cannabis and cannabis-derived products out of commercialization so the Weyerhaeuser family could cut down trees and supply the news industry with paper pulp.
Dorbian: In the book, you write that a surefire way for companies not to be taken seriously is to use tired branding tropes, like the cannabis leaf as a logo. Where do you see the future of cannabis branding?
Paleschuck: It’s really embedded or tied to the consumer’s needs. If somebody is looking for an aspirational brand that makes them feel something, that’s one kind of brand. But if someone is looking for something benefit-specific, that’s the future. It’s really about the benefit, the effect or the desire to be something greater than you are. To me, that’s where cannabis branding is going.