Brand Strategy

Three CBD marketers explain why they pivoted to pot

Why these founders entered the cannabis space, despite its challenges.
article cover


· 5 min read

For Cannabis Month™ here at Marketing Brew, we talked to a lot of cannabis marketers. And while some of them have been eating, sleeping, and smoking breathing cannabis for their entire careers, others are new to the space, hailing from companies that sell more “traditional” products.

After diving deep on all the idiosyncrasies and annoyances of marketing a heavily regulated product like cannabis (or CBD…or hemp…) we couldn’t help but wonder: what would make someone leave the relative simplicity of marketing a product like socks, or weddings, to start their own cannabis brand—which requires jumping through a million legal hoops just to run a simple digital ad? We chatted with a few of those exact people to find out why they joined this industry, and what they’ve learned in the process.

Their responses below have been lightly edited for clarity.

David Fudge

Former marketing gigs at Oasis Collections, Bonobos, Esquire magazine

Current role: cofounder and CEO of Aplós

A photo of David Fudge

A few years ago, Fudge led marketing efforts at Bonobos, a trendy men’s fashion brand. Now (after making pit stops in the hospitality industry and as a consultant), he spends his days working on Aplós, a hemp-infused spirit brand that rolled out a little over eight months ago.

Biggest learning from past roles: Building trust with the customer is paramount. It’s important when selling any product, but it’s crucial in cannabis because there are a ton of dubious products and misinformation out there.

Main difference between previous positions and this one: The standard rules don’t apply in cannabis. You have to be more resourceful, because many of the tools used to build modern brands—digital advertising, payment processors, etc.—aren’t always accessible for cannabis brands due to regulatory constraints and the policies of these companies. And the rules change frequently.

Why cannabis? The pace of growth and innovation in the space is incredibly exciting, but I’ve also preferred cannabis as an alternative to alcohol for many years, so I have a personal interest in the plant. We are just at the beginning of a huge cultural shift underway in consumers rethinking the way they drink. Cannabis will be a big part of the cocktail experience in the bar of the future, and I couldn’t be more excited to be a part of it.

Amanda Goetz

Former marketing gigs at Teal, The Knot

Current role: Founder and CEO of House of Wise

A photo of Amanda Goetz

At The Knot, Goetz’s job was deceptively simple: Promote a product that much of US society (and even its government) encourages people to buy…marriage.

But the government and the part of society that probably includes your grandparents aren’t as supportive of her new business venture. House of Wise is an affiliate marketing brand that sells some pretty fancy CBD products for women, including stress, sleep, and sex gummies.

Similarities between current and former gigs: Something that has been core to my thesis when marketing to women—both across The Knot and now House of Wise—is that women are looking for ways to feel less guilt and shame about things that they’re experiencing in everyday life. With The Knot, for example, the guilt and shame came from wanting to do something for their weddings that was “not traditional,” or something that their families might not approve of, like not doing traditional vows, or not having her dad walk her down the aisle.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

The email newsletter guaranteed to bring you the latest stories shaping the marketing and advertising world, like only the Brew can.

When I went to The Knot, I realized that our brand positioning was not speaking to that woman, and that we needed to help her feel supported in her decisions. That involved removing all “dos and don’ts” across all of our content and editorial, and saying, “Here’s ten ways that you can walk down the aisle,” or, “Do X, Y, and Z instead of just one.”

How her experience at The Knot inspires her work today: The Knot, as well as growing up feeling like I needed to fit a certain mold that society dictated for me, has definitely influenced how I think about building brands for this next generation of women. That’s why House of Wise’s brand allows space to talk about sexual health and wellness and talk about the fact that we’re stressed and we need help. I think this idea of “women don’t want to be put into one box” is a core thesis that I’ve had now for the past eight years of my marketing career.

Emily Onkey

Former marketing gigs at CB2, Estée Lauder, Bonobos

Current role: cofounder and CMO of Aplós

A photo of Emily Onkey

Onkey has seen many different sides of the retail marketing industry, but she opted for the emerging cannabis space as her next challenge.

Biggest learning from past industries: Test new ideas before going big. It changes the way we approach new opportunities, helps filter what is worth our limited resources, and navigates the undefined rules of a nascent category like non-alc spirits.

The main difference: Hands down the regulatory constraints in paid channels for cannabis and CBD. It is a new ball game entirely and forces us to be disciplined in our storytelling and really clearly communicate a strong value proposition because we are asking a customer to take a roundabout path to purchase. It is exciting to find our way and especially rewarding when you figure out how to make it work.

Why cannabis? We are in an expanding category—one that coincides with individual journeys toward wellness and embracing new ideas. The cannabis space is where things are headed. Our culture has been reliant on alcohol as the default way to unwind in a socially acceptable way since...forever? It’s way past time to revisit that mindset, and we get to help shape the adult drinking experience for people in a healthier way that provides all of the good without the bad. I’m honored to even be in the mix.

Get marketing news you'll actually want to read

The email newsletter guaranteed to bring you the latest stories shaping the marketing and advertising world, like only the Brew can.