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Transform magazine: Five minutes with Rob Baiocco – 2022

Rob Baiocco is the co-founder and chief creative officer at The BAM Connection, a Brooklyn-based agency in New York which works primarily with ‘adult’ brands, such as cannabis, alcohol and OTC pharma. The firm has been highly praised recently for its work with Keystone Canna Remedies, Pennsylvania’s first medical marijuana dispensary. Rob discusses the lure and difficulties of working with these ‘adult’ brands, the future of these categories, and his agency’s work with Keystone.


What first incentivized The BAM Connection to start working with ‘adult brands’, such as cannabis, alcohol and OTC phrama?

Who doesn’t want to work on spirits and cannabis? Every creative I know drools at the chance. And we are no different. Wine/spirits are one of the truest, purest marketing categories of all, where you create an image for a brand. People walk up to a bar and say I will have brand X. They make their choice publicly, and it still says a lot about who they are. Choices in most other categories are made in private. Plus, creatives can have a boatload of fun working on spirits. As for cannabis, how exciting to be ushering in a whole new category that’s a bit of the wild west as it all sorts out. We have been doing it for close to four years now and love being at the forefront of a burgeoning movement. And in the healthcare space, I enjoy the OTC side. It’s an interesting challenge. Remove the opposite of spirits. Consumers only come to you for the majority of OTC products when they have a problem. No matter how cool we could make an athlete’s foot cream, no one is going to buy it unless they have athlete’s foot. So it is a classic problem/solution nut to crack.

Are there extra considerations which must go into your work with these potentially stigmatized brands compared to work with more mainstream companies?

Absolutely. They definitely have more regulations, age limits, overconsumption concerns, and relentless scrutiny on the claims you can actually make. We have become quite adept at navigating those turbulent waters. In spirits, the big balancing act is capturing the joy of imbibing, while not crossing the line of overconsumption. That is ever-present on our radar as we create work. I wrote the first television ad that broke the 48-year self-imposed ban on spirits advertising on TV for Crown Royal Whisky. So I have been living this since the start. Cannabis is still federally illegal, so that creates a major stigma. People who are not overt cannabis advocates still don’t want to openly admit they use it. Plus, the rules change pretty much daily by state. So you need to be all over that. OTC is all about regulations and claims. It is best to work closely with those team members to get to the best wording the fastest. The goal for all of this is to present the brand in the absolute best light you can without crossing any lines that suddenly have the reverse effect on the brand. Besides the regulators, you need to be very aware of the haters on social.


What was your agency’s thought process when attempting to build Keystone Canna Remedies’ online brand presence?

We had three very clear, definitive principles that drove our process.

One, use responsible marketing. In all honesty, many cannabis startups, in the beginning, were stoners who were ahead of the curve trying to build out a business. Coming from other regulated categories, and having lots of big brand experience, we immediately applied many of those principles to the cannabis category. We weren’t winging it. We were creating thoughtful, responsible marketing to legitimize the brand in a category that is perceived as mostly illegitimate. Also, we used our spirits and OTC experience to guide us because those categories are 50-100 years ahead of cannabis. This approach is necessary because cannabis marketing is under the microscope by regulators more than any category prior. Facebook shut our page down…twice!

Two, branding, because we weren’t just selling weed. We were selling a brand. A brand that serves the community by relieving excruciating, chronic pain for people, and we did that through emotion, a crucial component to any cannabis advertising in my opinion. We always try to make sure we aren’t just selling a product, but a brand, and all that means in addition to it being cannabis. Also, anticipating the massive proliferation to come, we knew branding was even more critical. Eventually, when you can get your marijuana everywhere and anywhere, only the branded will survive.

Last, education, education, education because unless you are actively involved with cannabis, you probably know very little about it. However, that doesn’t mean you aren’t interested in it, especially now that it is legal in many states. Lots of people drink spirits, wine and beer, of course, they will be curious about this other way to loosen up and take the edge off. So in comes education. Tons and tons of education. Strains, history, conditions, how to get a medical card, how a dispensary works. You name it, we taught it.


Since The BAM Connection was founded in 2013, have the expectations ‘adult brands’ place on your agency’s work changed as they become more accepted?

There has been an amplified expectation for more cut-through creative. These marketers, like many others, realize the world is so much more competitive each day that passes, and creativity is the only way to break through. Other than that, expectations in OTC have remained fairly consistent over that stretch. They’ve had it ‘figured out’ for some time. In the spirits and cannabis categories, I think the constant expectation is to strike the right balance between the enjoyment of the product and its regulation. The only other real change in expectations is with the massive growth spike of social media platforms over that timeframe, we are now expected to not only understand those and how these brands fit in (or are banned) but also to avoid the pitfalls and the sights of the haters.

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