Branding on The Nug Nation, ‘where cannabis comes to life.’
Quasi-legality and complex restrictions prevent cannabis businesses from accessing mainstream advertising platforms. Over the past decade, in U.S. states where cannabis is legal, dispensary advertising dollars may have saved some regional weekly newspapers from bankruptcy.
But beyond the back pages or specialized publications, it’s hard to get big brand exposure. “With a lot of the advertising regulations for cannabis companies, they’re very limited,” said Mikey Peterson, co-founder of TheNugNation.com. “Google’s not allowing [cannabis advertising]. Facebook’s not allowing it.”
With marketing in mind, Peterson and business partner Dylan Pfohl wondered, ‘If it’s so difficult to advertise cannabis-related products and services, why not create an animated platform for brands to use?”
Why not (literally) let the cannabis speak for itself?
That’s when the co-creators began drawing up plans for their online advertising startup—and Nugville, a small Colorado town where cannabis brands live, was born.
“You can’t do any of these ‘call to action’ or an actual click ad, so, one way around that is monetizing content on a product placement or sponsorship level,” Peterson explained. “That way it’s just a creative, right? There’s no call to action in [Nug Nation] videos that says, ‘Come buy this product. It’s $5.99 at the store.’ That’s a direct advertisement, which you’re not allowed to do over state lines.”
“Part of the beauty of this is we can do branded content for people, and that’s one of the things that we’re really excited about. -Joy King, vice president of business development
Joy King, The Nug Nation’s vice president of business development, added, “What we really want to do is just provide a way for businesses to promote their products that’s unique and fun.”
“No one watches commercials,” she pointed out—and she may be right. Keyword advertising, digital pop-ups, and flashing video banners are nuisances to most digital users, crashing apps and cluttering websites.
Welcome To Nugville
But in cartoons, you can do almost anything—think adult comedy animations like Beavis and Butthead, South Park, and Adult Swim.
Then, think about walking, talking claymation “nugs,” laboriously created with real flower. In Nugville, a modern mountain town, brands are cleverly blended into plots, running gags, and subliminal set designs.
Now, start thinking about product placements, custom content, exclusive sponsorships, and other advertising opportunities, content streamed to trade and consumer shows, in dispensary wait rooms, and on the phone app… Are you starting to smell the sweet smoke of marketing potential?
“The Nug Nation is a comedy show at the end of the day,” King explained. “So, we don’t ever want to lose that comedic edge… We come at it from a different angle. Part of the beauty of this is we can do branded content for people, and that’s one of the things that we’re really excited about. So, if someone has a medical clinic and they want to create engaging content for inside their dispensary, we can do that.
“And we can do it to their specs; we can create a fun and engaging educational piece, if they want that comedic edge,” she added. “It’s not for everybody, but we see the opportunity as a way to differentiate your [brand].”
Peterson and Pfohl, both Denver locals, come from a background in graphic design, film-making, action sports videos, and content creation. After working and consulting with several Denver cannabis business owners on other projects, the pair began production on The Nug Nation in 2015. Peterson is chief executive officer.
King joined the team early on, after meeting Pfohl by chance while she waited in a Las Vegas taxi line with friends. All of them were headed to The High Roller Ferris wheel ride, also by coincidence.
Fast forward to earlier this year. King relocated to Denver from Los Angeles, to “get boots on the ground” and start showing Nugville real estate to industry brand-makers and other potential sponsors.
“We built around the marketing strategy first, because we were like, ‘how do we brand and monetize?’” Peterson said.
“You have a scene or a show where there’s supposed to be product in it and it’s obvious, so it doesn’t feel out of place. It feels native. We have a giant, blank canvas for these brands to come in and play with us.”
It Takes A Village
Currently, there are a lucky thirteen episodes on TheNugNation.com. King said she, Peterson, and Pfohl feel it’s a good time to start inviting potential sponsors over, to have a look around town.
The videos have the retro, high-quality feel of old-school holiday specials because of the labor-intensive stop-motion process used. Episodes can take up to eight weeks to complete, but the extra effort also gives the series a unique, do-it-yourself flavor.
The newest episode is difficult to describe. Essentially, it’s an interview with Southern rappers Nappy Roots about their latest studio release, “Another 40 Akerz”—but the group’s members and show host Bong Burgundy are all armless, talking nugs sitting on toilets in bathroom stalls at Nugville’s gas station. They chat about body waxing and the Spice Channel. Whoa.
“Bong Burgundy has his own show, called ‘Potty Talk,’” said Peterson. “The format for that show is that [Burgundy] works at a news station and during his break, he goes to the bathroom and there’s always a celebrity in the bathroom that he runs into, and they interview one another.” Previous episodes of ‘Potty Talk’ have featured rappers Redman and Scotty ATL.
Peterson pointed out that, before long, cross-promotions with cannabis brands will expand from edgy trendsetters and celebrities to mainstream companies. In fact, that’s already happening.
“Everyone knows the content of this market is valuable,” Peterson said. “You know, brands are going to figure out what they can do with that, and big brands are already starting. [Wonderful] Pistachio did a campaign with Snoop Dog that was 420-related. That’s a major brand.”
“For bigger [cannabis] brands that are trying to do nationwide distribution?” Peterson asked. “You need creative content and creative ways to advertise with sponsorship opportunities that can go anywhere and everywhere. That’s the way we see it.”
Meet The Nugs
Affy: An Afghan Haze nug who’s been exiled from his native land because he’s gay. He’s living the American Dream and owns his own business- Nugville’s gas station (and social hub).
Diesel: Portrayed by strain Sour Diesel, he’s an opinionated former race car driver who works at the gas station. His politics are old school, conservative, and he believes in the American way.
Cookie: Girl Scout Cookies is Nugville’s female activist and secret social superhero; she loves her hometown and social media. Little do her Nugville neighbors know about her popular online persona and viral blog.
Bong Burgundy: Nugville’s favorite TV news personality can’t be confined to a strain. He keeps locals informed about all Nugville doings and has his own late-night show, “Potty Talk with Bong Burgundy.”