Reefer Madness! Two new ads mean high times at the New York Times.

August 4, 2014

Such a legitimate looking ad…

The bastion of left wing liberal media, none other than the New York Times, last Sunday accepted for publication two ads all about legalized marijuana. One from a for profit company called Leafly, which is basically “the Yelp for information about legal cannabis.” In other words, where to find it and how good it is. In the same issue the Times also published an ad for an institution squarely against legalized, marijuana: An affiliate of Project SAM, or Smart approaches to Marijuana, their ad warns of the dangers inherent in legalizing this “highly addictive drug.”

AdAge posted a comprehensive story about the event, well worth reading.

And make no mistake this is an event. For over 150 years, the venerable “Grey Lady” has been the benchmark publication for any and all “news that’s fit to print.” The fact that it has run an ad for where to buy pot is truly historic and gives the burgeoning enterprise true credibility. Which, of course, is exactly what grassisnotgreener is worried about.

Cynics may rightly point out that the NY Times took either ad at least partly because they needed the money. Perhaps. Like all newspapers in the digital age, it is struggling mightily to stay in business. Still, the Times have forsaken profits for years just to stay credible. Does taking this sort of advertising change that?

In my opinion: no. But there are likely other opinions. Rather than debate the issue –plenty of folks will do that- let’s look at the ads. After all, this is a blog about advertising.

The Leafly ad (above) depicts two overtly healthy and successful people. A young woman is jogging past an elegant brownstone, where we also see an executive upon the steps. Call outs tell us that both persons legally use marijuana for health reasons. The headline below them: Just Say Know. Obviously, this is a play on the (in) famous “Just Say No” campaign from the 1980’s, in which Nancy Reagan and others beseeched young people to forgo the temptations of illicit drugs. “Why do you think they call it dope?” was another beauty from the era.

Why the pun? I reckon to show how times have changed. Now it’s not even a debate. Making an informed choice about using this powerful drug is our prerogative, as predicated by the Compassionate Care Act. From a visual perspective, the ad blatantly uses cues denoting prosperity. So much so, it might well be a piece for an investment firm, which, I’ll bet, thousands of Times’ readers thought it was at first glance. Telegraphing affluence and prosperity, Leafly made an ad that looks utterly and predictably respectable. Save for the fact that it’s about smoking pot!

The other ad also borrows another famous ad concept from the eighties. Honestly, it’s a rip off of Rolling Stone magazine’s iconic print campaign, developed by the once glitteringly renowned Fallon/McElligott & Rice of Minneapolis. I’m not completely sure this was intended. The layout is different, not as good. Other things.


Regardless, I’m less comfortable with it. For one thing, the ad seems to say (in keeping with Rolling Stone’s campaign) that the perception of pot is of a hippie while the reality is actually a successful professional. The problem is that the ad intends a completely different message: that legalizing marijuana will lead to a business model just like Big Tobacco, with all its itinerant evil motives.

In my opinion as a creative director, both print ads are thoroughly average. They don’t take advantage of their stage. On the other hand, that might be a good move. You know, for better or worse, pot is business as usual.

The whole thing makes me dazed and confused.


2 Responses to “Reefer Madness! Two new ads mean high times at the New York Times.”

  1. JohnA said

    I loved the NYT’s ad. Both as an award winnng art director and having a loved on with MS. BTW, she knows the benefits of medical pot. Keep the ads coming.

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