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Cannabis firms hope their brands catch fire with consumers

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So they’re out of the gate. But which brands are going to dominate in the great cannabis race?

And how will they push their branding message while staying in line with the promotional limitations of federal regulations?

For the marketers at Vivo Cannabis, the campfire works as an image for the Fireside brand: it brings people together, and it’s relaxing.
For the marketers at Vivo Cannabis, the campfire works as an image for the Fireside brand: it brings people together, and it’s relaxing.  (Vivo Cannabis)

There’s a misperception that because of federal guidelines, cannabis companies will uniformly hew to a pharmaceutical or antiseptic look and that you, the consumer, won’t see much messaging in the public sphere.

But the billboard advertisement that appeared on Lake Shore Blvd. E., in advance of Oct. 17 sent a clear message that at least one company was thinking differently. The tricoloured billboard was divided vertically into three colours: gold, red and black. Each panel bore the sleek symbol of a flame. Each bore one word: Fireside. And each bore the momentous date: 10 17 18.

Another popped up above the Belfast Love pub on King St. W. Single-colour panels showed up at Jane and Steeles. And in snowy Alberta. And on the 401.

It was classically smart advertising: enticing, anticipatory, curious, attention-getting.

Fireside cannabis is marketed as a premium, small-batch product from Vivo Cannabis Inc., headquartered in Napanee, Ont. Vivo has supply agreements in Ontario and the western provinces. On “Weed-nesday,” Fireside Red (mid-range potency level) and Fireside Black (high THC potency) went on sale on the Ontario Cannabis Stores website in two sizes, the smaller of which, at a single gram priced at $13.15, sold out.

The corporate story of Vivo is multi-faceted: in August it purchased Canna Farms in Hope, B.C. That acquisition brought with it reputation — Canna was the first licensed producer in B.C. — such distinctive strains as Tangerine Dream and Girl Scout Cookies, and a deal with British Columbia Distribution Brands. Vivo was already in the field of medical cannabis, through Beacon Medical, and intends to capitalize on health and wellness applications through its Lumina brand, a future that lies some ways away.

But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.

Readying for Oct. 17 was some kind of craziness. “Industries usually evolve in a much more disciplined way where you have an opportunity to come up the learning curve, but in this case it was just a mad rush to the starting line,” says Vivo chief executive officer Barry Fishman, who found himself gluing stickers to product. “I don’t know if the public realizes the phenomenal impact of having an entire market open up on one day.”

So here we are at the beginning. There will be losers. Vivo would prefer not to be one of them. So how to gain an advantage? Marketing is one piece. “We wanted people to be aware of Fireside because of all these brands coming out of nowhere,” Fishman says.

The challenge of creating the messaging around the new brand offering fell to chief marketing officer Sung Kang, who spent more than a decade in food (General Mills), beverage (Labatt) and pharma (Novartis) before arriving at Vivo.

“We worked really hard to create a brand that had a great emotional story to tell, one that people can really relate to and feel in sync with,” Kung says.

The Fireside billboard on Lake Shore Blvd. E., sent a clear message before Oct. 17, 2018.
The Fireside billboard on Lake Shore Blvd. E., sent a clear message before Oct. 17, 2018.  (Vivo Cannabis)

The objective was to sidestep pot smoking clichés while embracing the social connectivity of passing around a joint. The campfire hit the right notes: it brings people together, it’s relaxing and, as Kung says, in the circle glow of flannel-shirted people the stories inevitably start coming out. “You just feel so safe, you just feel so relaxed. And you usually don’t do that with the people you don’t like. You do that with people you like the most.”

So the focus became creating a brand that brings out the same emotion as the campfire. “It’s such an easy communication,” Kung says. “People just instantly get it.”

At the same time, the look of the brand had to strike notes of modernity and urbanity. The modern sans serif font and the simplified flame icon speak to that.

And those limitations on product promotion? “We used to work on billboards for alcohol where you had a really cute headline, you have some sort of image that supported the headline, and the agency had a really tough time making a line that was funny or captivating or breakthrough … It just ends up being a big jumbled mess. They’re ineffective because marketers insist on trying to communicate too much in them.”

“It is so refreshing to say ‘I’m not allowed to do anything but put my brand up there’,” Kung says counterintuitively of the pot challenge.

Here’s a disappointment: Vivo didn’t get Fireside Gold shipped to the OCS on time. In that Vivo is in good company. Even some of the biggest players stumbled with their listings. But this is just the beginning. As Kang says, as the market increases, cannabis companies will slice increasingly distinctive segments. Think of craft beers and what Kang calls the sub-tribes of drinkers who like sours versus IPAs versus stouts.

That’s tomorrow’s story. If Fireside catches on, it presents obvious edibles opportunities. Of course the company has already thought of pot-infused s’mores.

Will the brand catch fire? “We won’t know the answer to that until the dust settles and we see which brands resonate and which fall by the wayside,” Kang says. “I might be a brand guy, but at the end of the day brands are only as good as the products that are under it. We have a big belief in that product quality.”

The branding itself proves that even in a tightly regulated market, a clever marketer can create a distinctive esthetic.

Jennifer Wells is a business columnist based in Toronto. Reach her on email: jenwells@thestar.ca

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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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