In October 2018, after the legalization of recreational cannabis, the BC government launched the Get Cannabis Clarity campaign. This mainstream campaign visually demonstrated the divisive nature of ongoing cannabis debates and aimed to position the BC government as the authority on the facts, rules, and regulations surrounding a responsible cannabis culture in British Columbia. 

However, it was clear that the same strategy would not be effective in the ethnic market. The research suggested that within the Chinese-Canadian and South Asian communities, cannabis was considered “evil” and “dangerous”. They believed that legalizing cannabis meant: their children would have easier access to harmful drugs, the crime and violent incident rates would increase, there would be more impaired drivers and their lives overall would irrevocably change as a result. It was clear through their vocal protests, negative social media blasts, petitions, and forum discussions that Chinese and South Asian communities staunchly opposed cannabis legalization. 

The BC government quickly realized that it could not deliver its Get Cannabis Clarity campaign to an ethnic minority audience. This mainstream campaign was too ambivalent and confusing to be effective towards an ethnic audience that was already heavily biased against cannabis legalization. A significant undertaking was borne: to engender a new awareness campaign that would change the perception of cannabis legalization and minimize its negative connotations within local Asian communities.

The objective was to redesign the campaign in a way that would speak to the Asian audience, assuaging their concerns and defending their priorities: namely the welfare of their families and the safety of their neighborhoods. The reimagined message would let them know that despite cannabis legalization, some fixtures in their day-to-day lives would never change. This novel strategy proactively demonstrated how local parks, playgrounds, sports fields, K-12 school grounds would always remain smoke-free, and that minors would not be able to easily access or consume marijuana. 

These assurances answered some of the Asian communities most frequently asked questions, as well as encouraged them to learn more about how the province would continue to protect their families. The ads visually demonstrated the government’s continued investment in communities’ safety and reiterated that cannabis use was still restricted in many public spaces.

Launched between March 4-11, 2019, this new marketing campaign involved a series of print advertisements across several major Chinese and South Asian newspapers. The awareness campaign encouraged minority communities to dispel any confusion surrounding cannabis legalization by visiting the Get Cannabis Clarity website. 

While it is difficult to measure campaign success for such a recent project, the ads were printed in 18 popular Asian newspapers (such as Ming Pao Daily, Sing Tao Daily, Punjabi Star, Punjabi Link) with a total circulation of 539,500. After the campaign, many vocal protests, especially in the predominantly-Chinese neighborhoods died down, though it’s difficult to correlate this activity directly with the new campaign.

The campaign achieved its planning goals by making the Asian community feel protected against new legislation they perceived to be dangerous. The new ads utilized both copy and visuals to express that despite the legalization of cannabis, communities would still be safe, and that would never change.

This bold and unconventional strategy influenced the way the BC government handled their communications with the Chinese-Canadian and South Asian demographic. The brand needed to shift its marcom direction to appeal to a minority that, post-cannabis legalization, distrusted the government’s platform, message, and judgment. Unlike the mainstream campaign, which positioned the government as a neutral authority, this multicultural campaign demonstrated to the ethnic community that the government understood their concerns and was willing to take a stand and address them. Not only did these ads cast the brand in a more positive light, but they also helped the government regain support from communities that felt underserved by the new legislation. With continued education, advocacy, and similar awareness campaigns, hopefully, public opinion surrounding cannabis will see some dramatic changes in the near future.

Written by: Jackie Quiring

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