In the 2017 award-winning film “Ingrid Goes West,” the main character, Ingrid Thorburn is infatuated with the social media influencer Taylor Sloane. While Ingrid takes mimicking Sloane to a dysfunctional level, the fact is that – all cinematic liberties aside – parts of the plot aren’t far from today’s reality. People, especially millennials and younger generations, listen to and want to be like the personalities that they follow on social media.
To that end, popular personalities have become part and parcel to marketing, so much so that it’s called “influencer marketing” in the industry’s nomenclature.
Analyst estimates on the influence market size paint a better picture of the breadth of the space, including MediaKix forecasting the global ad spend in the range of $5 billion – $10 billion by 2020. As far as just Instagram, Statista estimates the influencer market was worth just over $1 billion in 2017 and grown to about $2.4 billion in 2019.
In the cannabis space, advertising is extremely limited. Consider that Instagram, Facebook, Google and YouTube, which comprise 75% of all U.S. digital advertising spend, currently do not accept cannabis advertising dollars. Until these rules change, social media is the place to be, where a key influencer can give a company an upper hand to market share.
Recognizing the Value of Social Media
One of the most well-known influencers in social media is Dan Bilzerian. Bilzerian is an internet and social media sensation with 43 million followers across Instagram, Facebook, Twitter and SnapChat. His pages and stories generate more than 400 million social media impressions every week.
Oh, and he’s the founder, CEO and chairman of an emerging, publicly traded consumer packaged goods company with cannabis and CBD product offerings called Ignite International Brands Ltd. (CSE: BILZ) (“Ignite”). With Bilzerian as the face of the brand, Ignite’s Instagram page has garnered more than 1.7 million followers since making its first post in February 2018. These followers are intensely engaged, averaging over 1,000 comments per post.
Bilzerian is passionate about the benefits of cannabidiol (CBD), a constituent of cannabis trumpeted for a bevy of medicinal benefits ranging from muscle fatigue after a workout to treating rare diseases like epilepsy.
Getting to Know Ignite
Ignite is the product of the business combination, completed on May 30, 2019 on shareholder approval, of two legal entities within the Ignite Group of companies; Ignite International, Ltd. (“Ignite US”) and Ignite. The merger paves the way for Ignite to begin executing on its plan to continue expansion throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe. Ignite already has a full line of CBD products available for online purchase in the U.S. which include disposable vape pens, flavored and unflavored drops, topical creams and roll-ons. Branded dried flower, pre-rolls and oils are available for sale in more than 215 dispensaries in California and Nevada, with plans to top 1,200 across multiple states in the next two years.
The products and company have been featured in High Times, Herb, Merry Jane and MarketWatch, while earning praise from press such as Tokewell, which wrote, “The brainchild of serial entrepreneur Dan Bilzerian, Ignite has taken the cannabis game by storm.”
The super-premium CBD and cannabis consumer packaged goods company recently entered into a joint venture with national vape and e-cig distributor MMS Distribution, LLC for the national distribution of CBD products in the U.S. The joint venture, operating as Ignite Distribution, LLC, will leverage MMS’s years of distribution experience and Ignite’s brand recognition to get products to wholesale, c-store, smoke shop, and retail operators in addition to continuing to build the ecommerce presence of the brand.
In May, Ignite inked definitive agreements for the manufacture and distribution of legal CBD products in the United Kingdom with an industry leader in this space: Taylor Mammon & Nathan Limited. This agreement also includes provisions that would allow the Ignite brand to expand into other strategic European and rest of world markets in the future.
Knowing Their Market
The market size for cannabis and CBD is well documented, estimated by the industry experts at BDS Analytics and Grand View Research to be heading toward $146 billion by 2025 from about $7.1 billion in 2018. The CBD segment is the fastest growing part of the industry, with the Brightfield Group forecasting that market will rise to $22 billion by 2022.
Millennials are at the root of the exponential growth. More than half of the 55 million Americans that use cannabis are millennials. In Ignite’s beachhead state of California, 39% of millennial cannabis users use the product every day.
As it happens, Bilzerian’s sweet spot for followers is millennials, with more than 85% of his followers being males aged 18-34. On average, 1.4 million millennials directly engage with each post he publishes on Instagram.
An Impressive Team
Ignite is more than just Bilzerian. CEO Jim McCormick is a consumer goods veteran, including a 17-year stint holding international CEO and CFO positions for cigarette behemoth British American Tobacco (LSE: BATS). Most recently, McCormick was COO and CFO at KushCo Holdings, a provider of ancillary products and services to the U.S. and Canadian cannabis industry. During his time there, KushCo’s revenue grew from about $20 million in 2017 to a projected $120 million in 2019.
CFO Eddie Mattei, a CPA and a Chartered Accountant for 20+ years, comes to Ignite from serving as CFO of the Mircom Group of Companies, a privately held, vertically integrated Canadian entity operating in the highly regulated, global fire and life safety marketplace. Previously, he was the Vice President of Taxation at Royal Group Technologies Ltd., a $2 billion international company.
SVP and COO Shannon Bard brings more than 25 years of international and domestic B2B, B2C and direct-to-consumer sales experience to Ignite. Seasoned in upstarts, Bard made successful exits in his last two ventures, Alterra and Xyron, and was integral to Xyron being recognized a Supplier of the Year at Walmart (NYSE: WMT).
It doesn’t stop there for Ignite. Curtis Heffernan, Global Head of Sales and Marketing, is a branding expert who has spent more than three decades in the consumer packaged goods space working for companies like Procter & Gamble (NYSE: PG) and Cadbury Schweppes. During his time as VP of Sales and Marketing for Tri Marine Group and VP of Sales and Marketing for the Borges Mediterranean Group, he achieved significant brand share growth and private label contracts with Costco (NYSE: CSCO), Walmart, Sam’s Club, and major grocery store operators.
Diana Ritchie, SVP of Operations and Retail, has extensive operational experience with more than 25 years in the hotel, casino and marketing spaces. Amongst other roles, she was the Senior Executive Director of Hotel and Casino Operations for Wynn Properties (NASDAQ: WYNN) and later Wynn International.
A company is only going to be as successful as its leadership, and Ignite is certainly getting off on the right foot.
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