MJBizCon, the world's largest marijuana industry conference, was big enough to be its own neighborhood. The event packed the Las Vegas Convention Center in November with 27,000-plus attendees and booths with club music and light-up flooring. At a hotel after-party some two-dozen floors above the city's casino glare, someone joked about making T-shirts saying "Public In Canada," a nod to the U.S. marijuana stocks crowding the Canadian Securities Exchange.
Participants pitched business deals at bars. They pitched deals at McCarran International Airport. In the convention center's hangar-sized presentation hall, outfitted with a large screen displaying video above the stage, speakers reflected on the post-midterm election political demise of Jeff and Pete Sessions, to occasional applause.
But the swagger obscured a big problem facing the marijuana industry: How to get recognized when few recreational users know or care about the company making their weed.
Analysts say cannabis branding – the art of getting people to associate a corporation with a plant that gets you high – will determine who ultimately prevails in a still-messy legalized recreational marijuana industry. But as legal sales boom and investors jump in, researchers and executives say few consumers have heard of even the most well-known cannabis products in the U.S. or Canada. To stand out, top marijuana companies are turning to sleek packaging, cute names and even celebrities like Martha Stewart.