The Potholes in Marijuana Advertising
How Cannabis Brands Can Maneuver a Legal Minefield to Engage Consumers
The world of advertising is about to become hazy. After lots of debate, feuds over the legalization of marijuana in Canada are being put to rest. Last week, Justin Trudeau announced that the Canadian government would legalize marijuana on October 17th, 2018. Many marketers are now wondering what this means for advertising opportunities once this date rolls around.
The Rules For Traditional Advertising
Canada’s marijuana laws will be enforced on a provincial basis, but it is undetermined how each law will work within the bigger federal system. This is very similar to the U.S., where laws differ depending on the state.
For example, in Colorado — where marijuana is legal — TV ads can feature cannabis, but only if it can be proven that at least 70% of the audience is over the age of 21.
Advertising cannabis on traditional channels like television, radio, and billboards is severely restricted by advertising regulations. As such, it can be difficult to reach your desired audience through traditional media.
Many smaller brands can’t afford the big budgets demanded from most traditional channels anyway, so they opt for efficient digital advertising instead. However, digital ads have their own rules and regulations.
The Rules For Digital Advertising
Marijuana has not been legalized on a federal level in the United States and laws vary based on what state you’re in. With the recent announcement of legalization in Canada, North American cannabis brands are unsure about whether they will be allowed to advertise or not. So let’s set the record straight:
Advertising for marijuana and related paraphernalia is banned across social media platforms as well as the Google Network in the United States and Canada.
Advertising rules for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google follow US federal laws — so until the American government legalizes marijuana, advertising or promoting its use will likely stay prohibited. Here is Facebook’s ad policy straight from their Advertising Policies page:
Here is Google’s policy from their Dangerous Products Policy page:
These rules leave limited opportunities for marijuana retailers to reach larger targeted audiences. There is also frustration with these advertising regulations on social sites like Facebook because of the ambiguity with which the rules are enforced.
Facebook hasn’t given a lot of guidance for exactly what type of content is allowed. Some posts will simply get deleted, other times retailers’ accounts are deleted, even influencers associated with a company could have their accounts unexpectedly removed.
Even though the ban of marijuana advertising limits retailers’ reach on the platforms, some organic content is allowed. There are still restrictions on what content you can post, including avoiding imagery of drug use or paraphernalia. Despite these setbacks, sites like Weedmaps and Leafly are leading the way in organic marijuana social content.
Weedmaps is a website and app that locates dispensaries and lets users review and discuss marijuana in an open forum.
Weedmaps has developed into more than just a directory; they’re a full blown media platform that shares valuable content about all things cannabis. They have built an engaged community with over 155k followers on Facebook that users trust to deliver high quality content — without the need for advertising.
The Roadblocks And What You Can Do About Them
Since organic content doesn’t have the same strict advertising rules on social networking sites, that makes it the best way for marijuana retailers to generate buzz around their brand.
Cannabis brands can use social media to release how-to content, product reviews, industry news, and other content without violating Facebook’s policies. Leafly shares tips from their blog including which snacks pair best with different strains, how-to posts for beginners, lifestyle posts, educational content for medical purposes, and more. Retailers like Leafly also harness the hype of marijuana by using popular cannabis related hashtags on their organic posts.
Instagram has over 12.9 million posts for #cannabis alone.
Leafly’s Instagram posts reach over 300k followers and receive high positive engagement rates in the comments section.
Weedmaps takes a more formal approach and uses their organic content to share relevant news stories as well as educational content like impaired driving and taxes. The content they post starts discussions in the comment section and also has viewers sharing the articles to their personal network.
For cannabis brands who are determined to implement paid strategies, there are sites that will accept marijuana-related advertising.
Adistry is a great resource to find online advertising opportunities specifically for marijuana retailers. They post listings for content collaborations, display ads, social media content, and more.
The strict regulations for advertising on major sites like Facebook and Google pose an immense threat to the marijuana industry — forcing cannabis retailers to rely mostly on organic content. Though there are many subtleties to organic cannabis content, it is a great opportunity to engage marijuana users in a meaningful way.
Marijuana marketing is complex. As regulations continue to evolve, advertising in the cannabis industry will too. But until it’s legalized on a federal level in the United States, marketers in Canada and beyond have no choice but to find creative ways to effectively reach and grow their audience.