Viceland, the TV arm of Vice, has been shooting a promo for Weed Week. It’s like Shark Week, but with lots and lots of marijuana. The seven-day pot-a-thon will run on Viceland starting April 16. It’s only in its second year, but the team is capitalizing on what it says was a successful launch with a new campaign called "Now With More Weed."
A budget of $20,000 got them 20lbs of the stuff. Half of it was bought outright while the rest was rented. Yes, you can rent cannabis. In fact, there’s a lot you can do with it -- marijuana companies are sitting on piles of cash ready to throw at advertising, but legalities forbid them from doing so, said Nate Coonrod, creative director at the media organization. One of the only options open to them is to explore partnerships like this, and even then, Viceland isn’t privy to share the names of these firms.
"There were a lot of companies willing to give us the weed, but we had a lot of difficulty legally being able to partner with them," said Nate, who's convinced this is the most real bud ever used in an ad campaign. "If these laws existed in any clear form, then we could have gotten a lot more weed. If we had done this through clearer channels -- which hopefully we can do in the future -- then we could have done something insane."
Shooting the campaign, a slapstick spoof of an 80's horror movie featuring pot as the monster, was uncharted territory. No one could tell them how much weed was too much weed because "those rules aren’t written down." What did help make Viceland’s legal team feel more at ease was that the ad did not feature anyone actually smoking. The team was confident with how much they could get away with following research from the show’s launch last year -- but it’s a gray area legally.
Using marijuana on camera also came with its own set of logistical problems. Bud doesn’t like to behave itself, apparently. Crew had to suspend a toilet seven feet above the ground to shoot one scene that showed cannabis overflowing from the bowl. Underneath was a metal pipe joined to an air compressor. The problem: when you have these plants sitting together for some time, they tend to fuse. When the crew first turned on the air compressor, it clogged, then fired out a fountain of drugs that spewed all over the set. It was cool, but not the effect they were after.
Adding to complexities, the rented weed had to be handled in a controlled environment with rubber gloves. Any damage to the plant would have incurred big fees.
"It’s really exciting for us because we’re the only network that would do something like this -- obviously, it’s pretty controversial," said Meghan Kirsch, senior vice president of marketing and creative at Viceland. "It’s part of our brand DNA to be really transparent and go directly at whatever we’re talking about.
"We are no stranger to creative acceptance issues. Pretty much every show that we support talks about provocative subjects, so every time we do an ad campaign we have to go through a lot of hurdles to get things approved."
The pair said Viceland is no stranger to people "giving us a little shit around the fact we have too much weed content." So they wanted to bare that in the face.
While shooting was all hijinks (pun intended), there is a serious undertone to Weed Week.
"This drug is so silly yet sincere -- the problems with it are real," added Nate. "We’re trying to do a campaign that is at its core completely absurd in the most beautiful way, but I hope calls to light the bigger problems that we have. Hopefully things will change in the next few years."
Viceland’s promo, created in partnership with The Glue Society, is running on TV, digital and social, and includes OOH in New York and Los Angeles.
In addition, the TV channel teamed up with Noble People for a program called "Smoke Weed With Jeff Sessions" in which participants can smoke weed with Jeff Sessions somewhere in the Washington D.C. area. Full disclaimer: it's some guy from Milwaukee with the same name -- not the attorney general.
This story was updated on 4/13/18 due to factually inaccurate information provided by Vice to Campaign, such as weed going missing from the shoot, which the media company has since said is not true.