WikiLeaf aims for the sky – and misses by miles

Have you seen? WikiLeaf has brought the first ever in-flight cannabis commercial to Virgin America this summer/fall – and, well, there’s really no nice way to say this: it’s TERRIBLE.

Here’s how I’d score this commercial (which is more of a PSA, let’s be real).


Despite my harsh criticism, I give big kudos to the WikiLeaf team for identifying and exploiting the opportunity to advertise on airplanes – that took foresight and gumption, not to mention producing video content can be a hairy, supremely frustrating undertaking. The commercial is expected to reach 7.8 million passengers, and is currently the only commercial of its kind, so its message shouldn’t get diluted much – especially with such a captive audience. I expect WikiLeaf has seen at least some boost to DAU and MAU since this “commercial” began to air.


Man, they seriously dropped the creative – and strategic! – ball on this one. I cringe-slash-snicker every time I watch it: the Midwestern mom voiceover, the bongo-laden background track circa 2001, flannel/jean styling, Ziploc schwag bag – not to mention the narration. MY GOD.

“Packing for a trip, there’s a lot to remember…and the MOST important decision of all: should you bring your cannabis?” (actress picks up a wrinkled Ziploc of old, crumbled flower, hesitates, and then puts it back before zipping up her carry-on) “The simple answer is, NO. Don’t do it.”

Gee, thanks, MOM.

The greatest issue with this commercial is that it fails to consider the most fundamental tenet for marketers and advertisers:


According to the Virgin America Advertising Sales Kit their average flyer is 25-29 years old, “hip, socially-engaged, tech-savvy, creative, and fashion forward.” This video represents the exact opposite of what would appeal to that demographic – I expect it may actually repel them. I know it does me…

A simple tweak to the narration could have solved this problem – turn it into a PSA parody.  In other words, acknowledge just how cheesy and patronizing your content and storyline are with an equally ridiculous voiceover. HUMOR is an excellent tool for capturing attention and nurturing brand loyalty.

Another option would have been to scrap the actor altogether and spend $200-$2000 on an animated storyline. Just head to, search for “explainer video” and VOILÀ, get a listing of hundreds of creatives who specialize in exactly this type of animation, are transparent with their pricing, and have been vetted (rated & reviewed) by numerous other clients.

Given WikiLeaf’s clean, hipster-style logo mark, I actually find it bizarre that they didn’t do a better job on the first go. It seems like they’ve got some serious brand positioning work to do – with rock-solid brand guidelines and thoroughly researched customer profiles, this creative misstep could have been avoided altogether. These types of blunders will to start to really hurt the WikiLeaf brand as the cannabis industry continues to mature, and their consumers – and competition! – grow even more savvy…

Bottom line: If WikiLeaf wants to remain competitive, first-to-market isn’t going to cut it for long. They’re definitely going to have to up their video (and brand positioning) game. Hard.


How would you rate the WikiLeaf commercial? Please feel free to comment below.


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