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The Most Complete Guide to Marketing in the Cannabis Industry

April 20, 2022

marketing in the cannabis industry

The cannabis industry has emerged as one of the fastest-growing American consumer product verticals in recent years. 

States are continuing to permit legal medicinal and recreational cannabis use at an increasing rate. Recently, our home state of New Jersey officially allowed recreational cannabis on April 21, 2022. 

As more dispensaries open to the public, we can predict more opportunities for agencies to secure these businesses as clients. Statistics show that the North American advertising spend for the cannabis industry will grow to 3.39 billion dollars by 2028

However, these products are still heavily regulated and classified as illegal at the federal level. This can create some complications for your agency as your team develops a holistic digital strategy for cannabis retail marketing clients. 

That’s why we wrote this guide to help your agency master the ins and outs of compliant cannabis marketing and advertising. We’re going to cover: 

Important Considerations for Cannabis Marketing and Advertising Campaigns

Federal Legal Status 

Cannabis is currently not legalized at the federal level. Instead, its medicinal and/or recreational use is permitted by individual states. Keeping this in mind, regional and local campaigns are currently the most effective for paid media and organic channels that permit cannabis content when targeting by geography. 

Platform Rules and Guidelines

Similar to the state-by-state legal status, each digital platform has its own advertising and organic content standards for promoting cannabis products. If these guidelines are not closely followed, your client’s campaign could fail to launch at the start or swiftly be removed from the platform. 

Content Liability 

Due to the industry’s heavy regulations, misleading or misinforming content could potentially create liability issues for your client. For example, making certain claims about the medical properties of cannabis could create legal complications

Before you begin posting content for your client, you may want to consider consulting with an expert on cannabis marketing beforehand. For example, a cannabis-informed attorney or an experienced digital marketing partner can provide you with the necessary guidance to help avoid these pitfalls. 

What Are the Best Channels for Promoting Cannabis Clients?

Cannabis-Specific Channels 

As the industry’s continues to expand its footprint, many cannabis-specific channels are emerging that agencies can capitalize on. These platforms are designed to specifically target the same audience your client is trying to reach. 

For example, there are digital map services that show users dispensaries near them, such as WeedMaps. Advertising on a channel like this one will not pose the same restrictive guidelines like Facebook or Instagram. 

Some industry publications like High Times also maintain a cannabis-focused news website. Here, a client that wants to reach more cannabis consumers can also advertise more freely than on a general-use platform. 

Paid and Organic Channels 

Paid digital media channels like Google Search and most social platforms place heavy regulations on paid cannabis content due to it being labeled as an “illicit” subject. 

To compensate for this, focusing on organic content can help drive engagement and quality traffic to your client’s website. Services like SEO and email marketing maximize the performance potential of the content that you can control on your client’s site to reach their ideal customers. 

For blogs, product pages, service pages, and informational pages on your client’s website, you can freely write content that objectively educates customers and builds authority. In most cases, it is recommended that you place an age gate on these pages so that the visitor can confirm they are over the age of 21 before proceeding. 

Because the client’s website is their wholly owned digital property, you have more creative freedom to market their cannabis products. However, this still requires a deliberate SEO strategy to draw the right traffic. Using high-opportunity keywords in your content, minimizing technical errors on the backend, and building a strong backlink portfolio are three vital tactics for generating the results that your client is expecting. 

Now, this is not to say that there are no paid media options available to agencies that offer cannabis advertising services. For example, some programmatic channels like pre-roll, OTT, and display may allow these campaigns, albeit with restrictions. 

A Channel-by-Channel Breakdown of Cannabis Restrictions

Advertising Cannabis on Social Media 

Most social platforms do not permit any cannabis advertising. Though this may seem like a frustrating obstacle for your agency, this does not mean that all social media doors are closed. 

Cannabis companies can still promote their business on social media through organic content. However, they cannot create posts that deliberately entice people to buy their products. 

Examples of what not to post on your client’s profiles include: 

  • Product prices and price-lists
  • Solicitations to buy a product or order one online
  • Information on growing or selling cannabis 
  • Medical claims about cannabis 
  • Invitations to contact the client’s business about purchasing cannabis 

Instead, leverage your client’s accounts to build authority and credibility in their industry and link to pages on their website. Keep the content as educational as possible, advocate for the industry at large using reliable sources, and use visual content that showcases a product rather than solicits it to the audience. 

Keep in mind that most platforms do have some methodology for flagging certain organic content that could be considered non-compliant with their content guidelines. For example, posts that use certain hashtags could be identified as unsuitable for sharing. Posts can also display on users’ feeds in states where cannabis is still fully illegal, thus further emphasizing the need for more general informational content. 

Although most platforms do not allow advertising for cannabis, below is in order the least to most restrictive platforms with a quick overview of what is permitted and what is restricted or prohibited. For a full list of the advertising policies for each platform, feel free to utilize the links in their respective sections. 

Snapchat – Restricted but allowed (hemp-derived CBD)

Snapchat is the least restrictive platform regarding cannabis, but unfortunately still has restrictions around it. Despite Snap’s Drugs & Tobacco Policy stating they “allow some limited ads for cannabis”, the advertising of cannabis on the platform is still prohibited.

CBD is where Snap opens up its policies. Advertising hemp-derived CBD products is permitted as long as the ad contains no products with THC and targets users 18+. Ultimately, it seems Snap draws the line with cannabis and CBD targeting based on whether or not the product contains THC.

If you have a Snapchat rep, you can reach out for specifics on a case-by-case basis to see if this is a feasible option for your client. Keep in mind that the platform “[does] not allow the depiction of smoking or vaping, except in the context of public health messaging or smoking cessation”, and whether or not an ad gets rejected or not can vary from reviewer to reviewer.

Twitter – Restricted but allowed (topical CBD allowed)

Twitter’s policy has slightly more restrictions compared to Snapchat. In the US, although cannabis and ingestible CBD is prohibited, advertisers can run campaigns for topical, non-ingestible CBD according to Twitter’s drugs & paraphernalia policy. 

There are a few more guidelines that advertisers must follow to run such ads, which can be found in the link above. 

It’s important to keep in mind that the above is specific to the United States. Cannabis ads are already approved in Canada on Twitter (with a few restrictions), so it’s likely that this platform will be one of the first to adopt cannabis targeting should it become federally legal in the US. 

TikTok – Restricted (topical CBD allowed)

Although one might initially consider TikTok to be more lenient here given their demographic, cannabis targeting is currently prohibited on the platform. However, topical CBD is permitted. 

According to TikTok’s Drugs and Drug Paraphernalia Policy, ad creatives and landing pages must refrain from displaying or promoting: 

  • Illegal drugs
  • Controlled drugs
  • Prescription drug abuse
  • Recreational drug use
  • Drug paraphernalia and accessories and their use
  • Supplies and their use 

However, the company’s Hemp & CBD policy does go on to say that “…promoting hemp products and topical CBD products may be allowed subject to additional restrictions.” It is the advertisers’ responsibility to comply with local regulations of the regions they are targeting. Additionally, hemp products may not be advertised via the self-serve format. 

Meta – Restricted (topical hemp allowed)

Meta (advertising on Facebook and Instagram) prohibits cannabis, topical CBD, and ingestible hemp products and CBD products (hemp seeds, ingestible CBD, etc.). 

According to their Unsafe Substances Policy, Meta prohibits ads that promote or solicit illicit or recreational drugs as well as other substances considered unsafe by the platform.   

Some examples o unsafe substances on Meta platforms include but aren’t limited to: 

  • Anabolic steroids
  • Chitosan
  • Comfrey
  • Dehydroepiandrosterone
  • Ephedra
  • Humon growth hormones 

Additionally, drug paraphernalia like bongs, rolling papers, and vaporizers may not be advertised on Meta. 

Meta does, however, permit ads that promote non-ingestible products such as topical hemp oil. We learned this when reaching out to chat support to confirm the details of advertising cannabis-related products on their platforms. Like organic content, informative articles on hemp and CBD products, which must also direct to informative landing pages are also permitted. 

Pinterest – Restricted (topical hemp)

Pinterest is quite restrictive in the CBD and hemp space, only permitting ads for topical hemp as of now. Per their Drugs and paraphernalia policy, Pinterest takes things one step further and does not even permit the informational material about the use or legalization of illegal or recreational drugs. 

Most specifically, the policy states “Products containing CBD or similar compounds are prohibited. We will allow ads for topical hemp seed oil products that contain negligible amounts of THC and no CBD and make no therapeutic or medicinal claims.”

LinkedIn – Prohibited ❌ 

Last up is Linkedin and the policy is very straightforward. All ads for drugs (OTC or recreational) are currently prohibited on the platform according to the platform’s Drugs policy. 

Advertising Cannabis on Google 

Google adopts a strict “just say no” policy when it comes to advertising or marketing topics referencing cannabis, marijuana, weed, etc. There are no explicitly stated restrictions against targeting keywords related to these terms, but any ad copy or landing page that features this subject matter will be heavily scrutinized and regulated. 

Because Google has more ambiguous standards for advertising cannabis, you may occasionally see ads that are related to the topic. For example, you may see paid ads for a local marijuana dispensary if you enter the term “weed dispensary near me”. However, many of these listings will use vague references and innuendo to avoid a platform penalty. 

Trying to game the Google Ads system is not advised. In general, this can lead to a poor user experience and can fall under Google’s Circumventing Systems policy.Depending on the nature of the offense, this can potentially lead to your Ads account being suspended or terminated, which we believe is not worth the risk. 

To view other cannabis policies for paid search ads, also check out the guidelines from Microsoft and Baidu for their search engines.

Advertising Cannabis on Programmatic Channels

Programmatic advertising for cannabis clients used to encompass direct-to-publisher display ad buys and ad networks that leveraged cannabis-friendly websites which were sold to advertisers trying to reach consumers of the product. 

While both of these methods are still used, some DSPs are starting to loosen their restrictions on cannabis advertising to keep up with the evolving climate. This results in more robust and creative ways to reach cannabis consumers.

Contextual Targeting 

DSPs that are embracing the new wave all offer a variation of contextual targeting – serving ads on websites that are categorically relevant or contain keywords or phrases related to cannabis. This can range from consumption in general to information as granular as insight into different strains.

First-Party Data

A desire to leverage first-party data has also increased for a variety of reasons ranging from having the highest likelihood of purchase intent to cookies being sunsetted in the near future. First-party data allows cannabis advertisers to leverage their list of existing customers, such as dispensary item purchasers, and reach them while they’re surfing the web, using their favorite apps, or streaming their binge-worthy shows at home on their CTV devices. 

In addition, first-party data allows for lookalike audience expansion. Lookalike audiences mirror the online behaviors of a client’s CRM list, for instance, and find users who aren’t already on that list that could be potential consumers. This provides a campaign with more scale and reach while maintaining its niche audience targeting.

Third-Party Audience Targeting

Additionally, advertisers can utilize the power 3rd-party audience targeting. Via trusted data providers,  your client can reach people identified as cannabis users based on their demographic, interests, intent, etc. as a result of their online behavior.

Dabble with competitive conquesting or hone in on physical stores/locations that a cannabis audience frequently visits with radius targeting or 3rd-party location data. This strategy is exclusive to a handful of DSPs right now, but it could expand in the future. 

Radius targeting also lets your client reach dispensaries down to the mile and serve them an ad on their mobile device once the user is within the radius. 3rd-party location data allows your client to capture historical data, via lookback windows, of users who visited specific dispensary locations across the US and Canada and deliver their ads to these highly relevant consumers.

Site Retargeting

Site Retargeting is another strategy that is offered universally and is key for all cannabis advertisers, but especially for eCommerce campaigns. Being able to drive awareness and bring users to a client’s site is great, but retargeting them after the visit keeps them in the funnel and increases the likelihood of conversions by about 70%

While programmatic advertising sits very high at the top-of-the-funnel and conversions shouldn’t be the primary way to measure campaign effectiveness, there’s no doubt that they’re still points of extreme interest. With that said, conversion tracking for cannabis campaigns is borderline universal for all DSPs that allow this type of advertising. 

However, the granularity of the conversion journey varies greatly. Most DSPs can report on a conversion just like any other platform, but others have the capability to show the consumer journey from ad click to last-click attribution and everything in between!

Cannabis SEO Campaigns

Because SEO is an organic channel that primarily leverages your client’s website, there are not the same restrictions compared to paid media. As your client owns their domain, they are largely free to publish whatever content best suits their business’s best interests. 

However, any organic content published on a client’s website should maintain compliance with state and industry regulations. All necessary consumer warnings, disclaimers, and other advisory information should be displayed where appropriate to help avoid any potential liability for the content on the site. 

Because SEO is one of the more permissible channels for marijuana topics, you can expect a large amount of competition for high-opportunity keywords. Working a team of SEO experts, you can prevent many of the common obstacles and challenges that can come with a cutthroat digital environment. 

Start Delivering Elite Performance for Your Cannabis Marketing Agency 

Navigating the often unclear waters of cannabis advertising is enough to make anyone’s hands shaky before pressing “live” on a campaign. We understand that, and that’s why we’ve invested the time and effort to provide your agency with the necessary tools, expertise, and performance to deliver high-performing campaigns for your clients. 

At Conduit Digital, we have delivered elite campaign performance across 125 verticals for successful agencies in North America leveraging our holistic digital product suite. Our team of U.S.-based, platform-certified expert analysts can build your own cannabis client’s campaigns to drive the ideal key performance actions that align with their business goals. 

To help keep your partnership confidential and profitable, we also offer a margin-friendly rate card along, custom-brandable deliverables, and full NDA compliance. 

Start saying “yes” to better opportunities to serve your clients in the cannabis industry today. Schedule a call with us to learn how we can help you scale profitably.

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