Because cannabis is such a restricted industry, advertising avenues are severely limited. Thanks to federal prohibition and gray areas in local laws, many cannabis companies are unsure of how to market themselves in a compliant way. And many advertising platforms, like Facebook, won’t touch cannabis advertising.
How can you grow your legitimate business without advertising?
Depending on your state, you’re contending with rules like:
State approval for ad creative and language.
Proof that 75% of your audience is aged 21+.
No showing cannabis products or consumption.
Illinois enacted restrictive advertising policies before adult-use cannabis was legalized on January 1, 2020. Among the rules listed, cannabis businesses can’t make health claims, advertise on public transit, do giveaways or contests, or advertise near schools or libraries.
Even if you think you’re in the clear to advertise, conflicting rules can still cause problems for your business. EnrichaRoast Coffee promoted a CBD-infused drink during Super Bowl 2019. It got great results from the ad, but the FDA was less than thrilled. The brand had to deal with the fallout, and the trouble wasn’t worth the returns. Keep in mind that this was for CBD (a substance legal at the federal level), not even a THC-laden product.
TV commercials aren’t an option for cannabis companies, and online ads through Facebook or Google are typically prohibited. What are your options?
Here are a few ways cannabusinesses promote themselves without running afoul of the rules.
Streaming services and podcasts: Cannabis brands are creating shows on Netflix, Amazon Prime, and even starting their own podcasts.
Cannabis-only ad platforms: Ad networks solely for cannabis advertising are currently in the works. This would allow you to show banner ads on cannabis sites across the web.
Billboards: Outdoor media is a very popular method for promoting cannabis businesses. Since radio is restricted by the FCC, billboards help you reach a large, local audience. But make sure you’re advertising in your state; Weed Maps tried to advertise across state borders in Connecticut, and it didn’t go well.
Sponsor roads: Colorado restricted outdoor ads for cannabis. Not to be outdone, cannabis brands started sponsoring roads and highways. The state placed the business’s logo on signage near their sponsored road, unintentionally advertising the business.
Make sure you follow the letter of the law any time you advertise your business. It’s one thing to get creative, but you don’t want to end up on the wrong side of the law.
Photo: Mitchell Eloy
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