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Recreational Europe: We Need to Talk About Cannabis


TBWA\Dublin partners with cannabis sector-specific advisory firm, Hanway Associates, for new eye-opening report

Recreational Europe: We Need to Talk About Cannabis

It is a momentous time for Europe, as public perception of recreational cannabis shifts, in what is being dubbed “A Great Reprioritisation”. This tangible change in public opinion has been documented in Recreational Europe, a first-of-its-kind report produced by Hanway Associates, in partnership with creative agency TBWA\Dublin. The report draws parallels between the development of the North American cannabis market and the current state of play in Europe, mapping out a European ecosystem for similar deals and investments.

The discussion surrounding the legalisation of cannabis is a historically divisive and disruptive topic but one that Hanway Associates and TBWA\Dublin are ready to tackle. Supported by data-driven insight from cannabis operators, government officials, academic researchers and political figures, the ground-breaking analysis conducted by Hanway documents the change in the cultural landscape across countries in Europe. The group’s research reveals almost 30% of Europeans are interested in trying recreational cannabis, with more than half (55%) of Europe supporting legal cannabis sales to over 18s. Alastair Moore, the Dublin-based founder of Hanway Associates, hopes this sparks respectful debate about what the priorities should be in a legal cannabis market in Europe. 

Committed to encouraging open-minded free thinking, TBWA\Dublin remains attuned to cultural perspectives and discussions through their human-led research tool, 100 Voices. Designed to offset their own echo chamber and gauge the temperature of different cultural issues, 100 Voices is a global panel of respondents that work with TBWA\Dublin to deliver articulate, honest insights. With this tool on hand, the Disruption® company was primed for the role of Hanway Associates’ creative partner for this landmark project. 

Having identified a huge opportunity for untapped market potential, both companies are passionate about bringing the report to the attention of market leaders around the world. LBB's April Summers spoke to Hanway Associates founder, Alastair Moore, TBWA\Dublin CEO Deirdre Waldron, and chief strategy officer, Mandy Leontakianakis, to find out why now is the time to broach the subject of the constructive commercialisation of cannabis in Europe. 


LBB> Can you tell us how you know each other?

Alastair Moore (Founder, Hanway Associates)> We connected by chance with good timing. I'd just moved back to Ireland and Dee was looking for new and exciting sectors to make an impact in. There are a lot of Irish working in the global cannabis sector, open-minded and entrepreneurial people.
Deirdre Waldron (CEO, TBWA\Dublin)> Yes, certainly a connection by chance, but we had also noticed Hanway Associates were the leading consultants in this new sector. We are always on the lookout for new opportunities so we connected with Alastair and his team - it just so happened we were both Irish!


LBB> How did you come to the decision that this was a project TBWA\Dublin could help with?

Mandy Leontakianakis (CSO, TBWA\Dublin)> At TBWA we’re keenly attuned to culture and where it’s heading. We look for spaces where we can challenge the status-quo and disrupt, which is why we opted to help out with this project. It gave us a chance to connect with our 100 Voices panel - TBWA\Dublin’s human-centred research tool, rooted in principles of design thinking - on a really interesting and divisive topic. We spoke to people from all over the globe, in a bid to generate diverse, non-conventional and empathy-led opinions, which led to textured insights and learnings beyond cannabis legalisation and into its cultural implications.

LBB> How did 100Voices help with this particular brief?

Mandy> 100Voices helped the agency understand how consumers feel about cannabis legalisation, uncovering deep-rooted biases, concerns and misconceptions. This made us more sensitive and empathetic when approaching and framing the topic. But more than that, it helped us suss out the edges: the judgements, the curiosities and the openness around cannabis in culture.

LBB> What does it mean for TBWA\Dublin to take on a ground-breaking project like this, that centres around a historically controversial topic? 

Mandy> Finding tensions in culture and leveraging that always leads to interesting work. So it’s great to be involved in conversations like this, because there’s an opportunity to meet people where they are, and push those boundaries. 

LBB> In what way does this project align with TBWA\Dublin’s core values and creative approach? 

Mandy> As the Disruption company, we aim to challenge convention and fight for better – in many ways, that’s what Hanway Associates are doing with this report. So it seems like a good fit.  We also believe in being proactive so that we can be at the forefront of culture-defining moments. This isn’t a conversation we’d want to miss.


LBB> Hanway Associates is working towards bringing the cannabis sector into the mainstream. What is the biggest challenge you face when getting your message out there, given the historically restrictive marketing terms associated with recreational cannabis? 

Alastair> The biggest challenge to communicating anything about recreational cannabis is the limited framings most people have for talking about it. For too long the conversation was siloed in 'yes' and 'no' camps, when in reality the spectrum of opinions is far more nuanced. Outdated arguments are still widely disseminated, and often, arguments against cannabis legalisation are in reality arguments against the status quo and the unworkable current situation in which cannabis is widely available but not controlled. 

LBB> Alastair, as part of this report you launched The European Cannabis Legalisation Tracker, the first nationally-representative pan-European public opinion poll tracking attitudes towards cannabis. How will this tool help inform future work? 

Alastair> This poll was the first of its kind in Europe. We wanted to replicate the Gallup polls we see in the US, that have been tracking public support of cannabis since 1969. We aim to track public support here over time as it is one of the key factors that plays into whether or not a jurisdiction will legalise. 

LBB> What conversations are you hoping to spark with this report?

Alastair> The report has been received well so far. We spoke to public health officials, entrepreneurs, investors, activists, and politicians to get a wide input into the report so I feel it brings together a rare mix of viewpoints and a healthy dose of scepticism. We're hoping that the report highlights how this major societal shift is happening now, and allows Europeans to focus on the important parts of legalisation; the reprioritisation of how we police, support, and incentivise our citizens in relation to cannabis. Cannabis legalisation should be a boring issue, a bureaucratic one – seen as a tool for slightly improving society for the better.


LBB> What are you most proud of about this project?

Alastair> At Hanway, seeing an accurate portrayal of cannabis legalisation in circulation makes us proud. All too often cannabis legalisation is portrayed in extremes – a flawless utopian destination with no risks or the moral collapse of society that will lead to untold public health consequences. The truth is neither. Just as with any other potent and popular substance on this planet there is a trade off of risks and benefits, as well as arguments for and against it.
Deirdre> We’re proud to be involved in a project that speaks to societal changes and is shaping culture. We’re also proud of the collaboration and integration that was achieved between departments - from strategy all the way to production - which comes off the back of the recent launch of our very own in-house studio, Bolt.

LBB> There are so many eye-opening takeaways in this report. What kind of effects do you foresee this having for marketers? 

Alastair> The public opinion levels are higher than we expected. The levels of public support are the same as Washington and Colorado were when they legalised in 2012. As legalisation makes its way to Europe an industry will begin to grow. As cannabis emerges from the black market and into the light there is a huge opportunity for marketers to help brands connect with consumers.

LBB> Any other interesting insights you can share with us about this project? 

Mandy> One of our 100Voices respondents told us that cannabis education is like sex education – taboo, unclear and inaccurate. We’re excited that Hanway is circulating an accurate portrayal of cannabis legalisation in the face of that obscurity.
Deirdre> New entrants into this market have experts like Hanway to navigate the legislation in each market. At TBWA\Dublin we can provide marketing and advertising expertise based on our vast experience in heavily regulated markets across not just the EU, but the other global marketplaces, like the Americas and Africa. It's exciting to be part of a new sector and to be a creative partner to companies of the future.

Download the “Recreational Europe” report for free here

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TBWA\Dublin, Mon, 13 Jun 2022 08:31:00 GMT