Learning From Tokyo Smoke’s $13,000 Bong Fail

By TOke
Edited by Admin
Learning From Tokyo Smoke’s $13,000 Bong Fail

Tokyo Smoke, one of Canada’s emerging cannabis brands, had a boo boo. A big boo boo.


The company put out a promotional video for a $13,000 futuristic bong and BOY has it caused a stir. If you haven’t seen the controversial video on Vice, check it out before we jump in.


A few stupendous quotes from the post:


There’s basically only ever been one pipe, only ever been one bong. It’s like you can smoke out of this small glass dragon, or our large format glass dragon.” – Alan Gertner.


 Marijuana culture has been unthoughtful” said the bong’s disaster of a designer, Alex Josephson, as Gertner nodded in agreement.


I know, real shocker: the promotion unequivocally backfired. Members of Canada’s cannabis community were fast and furious to criticize Tokyo Smoke. Here’s just a slither of the scathing dissatisfaction:  



The company got so much flack that within 24 hours they issued the following statement on their Facebook:


We appreciate the comments regarding the Io Pipe. We inadvertently insulted a community we respect and for that we are truly sorry.

Our goal with this collaboration was to see how we could use new materials and manufacturing processes to build something beautiful. Our goal will always be to provide opportunities for creativity in the cannabis space. Creatives have helped shape the industry to where it currently is and will play a huge role in how we collectively move forward.

In our excitement about stainless steel and aerospace technology, we disparaged some of those creatives and we apologize.

We firmly believe there should be as much choice and debate about preference, style and materiality in the cannabis sector as in other retail experiences. This impassioned community deserves a great conversation and a great product selection. We’re excited to be part of that ongoing discussion.


Too little too late though… the memes have already started rolling in.



Let this mishap serve as an important lesson for emerging players in the cannabis industry. Or at least, that is, a lesson for the execs that don't want to be the butt end of a meme.


3 important takeaways from Tokyo Smoke’s faux pas.


1. Don’t Talk Down to the Segment You’re Trying to Connect With


Don’t let anyone tell you there’s such thing as common sense. If there’s one thing you shouldn’t do as a cannabis brand, it’s talk shit about the people you’re trying to sell to.


Some companies, like Apple, can get away with it. But the difference is this: when Apple talks down to its customers, they do so packing heat. That is, they have some hot new feature to delicately hit you over the head with. They help you see that your glass is clearly half empty—then offer you a product to fill it.  


Tokyo Smoke didn't have that same "let me guide you towards the light" vibe. It came across like two hipsters ripping on everyone else and being cooler for being different. After all, it’s not like the the Io bong has any special features. It's simply better in virtue of being made with new materials and technologies... and because they say so. 


2. Executives Need To Understand Cannabis Culture


There are a lot of green executives in the cannabis industry—no pun intended. In fact, most of the people running the biggest licensed cannabis producers aren’t from the scene. While these executives know a great deal about navigating the stringent regulatory framework, they know less about the people they're trying to connect with as brands.

On several occasions, Licensed Cannabis Producers have shown a real lack awareness. There are some exceptions; but overwhelmingly, it's a problem.


It's straightforward. If you're going to sell cannabis you need to know the scene. Otherwise, there's a risk of damaging brand perception and coming across as inauthentic. There’s already a hum among people that cannabis is being corporatized. Failing to learn the intricacies of the culture will only add fuel to that fire. The brands that thrive will have executives that know how to own authenticity... and that all goes back to the culture. 


3. The Cannabis Community Is LOUD on Social Media


If there’s one group to not piss off… it’s them stoner. In part, I think it’s a demographic thing. Think about it: the segment is largely made up of sub-40, tech-savvy tokers. It's a group that isn’t afraid of the internet, calling companies on their BS, nor engaging in some good ol’ fashion internet trollage. Executives shouldn’t underestimate the impact of social media.

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