With sales over $10 billion dollars in 2018, cannabis has become so popular that it’s set to eclipse American soda sales—and business will more than double by 2022, with a projected revenue of at least $22 billion. More and more Americans favor legalizing cannabis nationwide, but the rules around advertising cannabis are still extremely restrictive. “Most traditional channels are shut off to us,” says Erik Knutson of Keef Brands, a cannabis beverage company.
An ever-changing list of rules makes it difficult for dispensaries to advertise, but it’s far from impossible. Here, we break down the various hurdles in cannabis marketing, and the tactics you can use to successfully promote your brand and grow your customer base.
Cannabis advertising: What you’re up against
Cannabis companies face significant hurdles in advertising; cannabis references in any form are strictly regulated or flat-out banned on many crucial marketing platforms.
Social media reaches millions, but dispensaries can’t currently capitalize on these digital goldmines. Every channel has its own set of complicated rules, and violating them, whether intentionally or not, can lead to a dispensary account being erased or blacklisted.
Advertising anything cannabis-related (including CBD) is still close to impossible on Google Ads (formally AdWords). Marketers that use “cannabis” (or any related terms) in ad copy, in any related pictures in their display images, or on the corresponding landing page, run the risk of their ads being rejected or their account being shut down altogether.
Radio and Television Ads
While there is more leeway to market on these channels—the FCC hasn’t banned cannabis advertising outright—major broadcasters have thus far avoided airing any cannabis-related ads, as they don’t want to run the risk of potential repercussions from the Federal Government.
The U.S. Postal Service is a federal agency and has to adhere to federal law, which strictly prohibit the advertisement of Schedule I substances, such as cannabis.
Cannabis advertising: How to win
You wouldn't start a cannabis business if you wanted an easy route. Luckily, you can still win and grow your business despite the complicated rules and regulations. Here are a few ways that you can still do effective marketing to grow sales and customers.
Despite a complicated of web of regulations, the two key power players of social advertising have started to loosen restrictions on cannabis content.
Instagram now allows dispensaries to post images of their products, but they can’t include their address or contact information, and they must explicitly state that they are not selling anything on Instagram. However, they can post their URL, giving brands the chance to drive potential customers to their website, where that information is readily available.
It’s worth noting that successful cannabis accounts don’t just put up product shots—they stand out from the crowd by curating a gallery of compelling images (ranging from photographs to memes to text posts) that promote their brand and vision. Make sure not to overwhelm your followers with promotional content; overly promotional pages rarely convert Instagram users to website visits. As Linda Pickel, head of social media at North 6th Agency says:
“If you think of the social media pages you follow, you never want to follow a page that’s just purely advertising, trying to promote themselves all the time. You would want to follow a page that provides value, whether that was entertainment value in the form of industry pot humor, or educational.”
In an encouraging move, Facebook announced in late 2018 that they would no longer remove dispensary business pages from their site. Now, verified cannabis businesses can create pages that will show up in user search results (previously, Facebook shut down every page they could find).
Facebook’s Community Guidelines are still restrictive in terms of what kinds of posts are allowed, but industry leaders are hopeful that this shift in policy indicates a change in Facebook’s attitude toward cannabis promotion. Just a few weeks ago, an internal Facebook presentation indicated that the company is considering allowing businesses to advertise cannabis, which would open the door for incredible growth in customers and in revenue.
If you have a database of customer phone numbers, you have a valuable foundation for successful SMS marketing. On this channel, there are no restrictions: you can text your customers daily promotions, product photos, and upcoming events (just don’t spam them). This method has a crucial advantage: it allows dispensaries to record response data, helping you retarget your campaign resources where they’ll be most valuable.
Google makes it challenging for dispensaries to successfully advertise on the web, but industry giants like Leafly, Mantis, and Weedmaps promote cannabis products to a very relevant demographic. List your business on these sites, or look into advertising opportunities—but before you pay top dollar, make sure you ask how many unique visitors the site reaches per month, and how many of those visitors are in the demographics you’re looking to target.
Digital Content & Search Engine Optimization
Blogs are a powerful and relatively simple way to increase organic traffic. Content that’s relevant, engaging, and unique will not only attract potential customers, it will build the SEO value of your site, often enhancing your Google rankings and making your site more visible to potential customers.
Facebook may restrict what dispensaries can post, but influencer marketing can you help get around those policies and reach new audiences via a digital “spokesperson”. In order to get the best results, choose an influencer that aligns with your company brand and values, and one that has a following similar to your target demographic,
These advertising channels have huge potential: the regulations are murkier, and the reach is immense. “Out of the major media, planned (cannabis) purchasers spend more time with radio than any other media,” says Phil Beswick of The Media Audit, a consumer market firm. Major broadcasters can air cannabis content, but at this point, none of them have, so for now, focus on local opportunities. Think about using ads in alternative magazines and newspapers and on industry-relevant podcasts to reach your potential buyers.
Advertising regulations can be a big roadblock in the cannabis industry, but Gram Social Media has the solution. We grow your business with an innovative, ad-free approach, so you can stop worrying about the rules––and start enjoying your revenue. Set up a consultation with us today, and find out how our services can take you from a small operation to a big success.