The cannabis business has unique elements. It is challenging to know the legal constraints of cannabis advertisements and how to convey your brand identity and introduce your product to enthusiastic cannabis users.
In the United States, the legalization of medical and recreational cannabis is expanding every year, so the legalization of cannabis advertisements is changing dynamically on the state-level.
While Canada has legalized the recreational use of cannabis, it has also set restrictions on promotions and advertisements.
For starters, study the local cannabis advertising law in your state.
Foottraffik offers a detailed guide for advertising regulations on a state-by-state basis in the US.
Canadian businesses can get themselves well-informed from the Cannabis Act and Cannabis Regulations about promotion prohibitions.
Even though regulations differ from one locale to another, we can sum up some basic guidelines and rules that are common across the US and Canada:
Even if your business is licensed and your product is legal for medical purposes, advertising it falls under special restrictions different from other medical supplements or OTC products.
Whether you’re selling flowers, concentrates, edibles, topicals, or other cannabis products, the regulations apply similarly.
Cannabis is still listed as a Schedule 1 substance in the US. As coded in Title 21, Section 843(c) of the US Code of Laws, it is an unlawful practice to place in any newspaper, magazine, handbill, or other publications, any written advertisement knowing that it has the purpose of seeking or offering illegally to receive, buy, or distribute a Schedule  I controlled substance.
To avoid unauthorized minor consumption, most regulations restrict placing cannabis ads in public. More than a small fraction (about 20-30%) are expected to be below the legal age (17-21 years old).
It can be tricky to comply with this rule, but the point is to avoid placing or distributing ads near schools or playgrounds or using characters—like cartoon figures—that may appeal to minors. Also, online, you need to avoid popular websites and those who don’t apply age-gating access.
Most states agree with this law. Even where cannabis advertising is legal, it is prohibited to use pictures or videos of real persons consuming cannabis for medical or recreational purposes in advertisements.
When it comes to safety, most regulations prohibit misleading or inaccurate information about marketed cannabis products. More specifically, you cannot claim that your product has unproven therapeutic effects or claiming unqualified health benefits. Some states will even go further to obligate cannabis ads to list side effects and dangers of over-consumption, as followed by tobacco advertising.
We advise you to follow the locally legally-binding laws where you operate. The whole cannabis legalization framework is still growing. There are only a few relevant court precedents, and states are following each other’s lead applying legal restrictions.
It is recommended that you consult an attorney, check what other local businesses are doing, and monitor neighboring states’ legal situations.
Now we will explore examples of advertisement mediums that are allowed under restrictions and could be considered for your business launch.
Outdoor advertising is still the most robust traditional way to mass market your message. Yet, the restrictions here can be tighter than any other medium.
Billboards are exposed to the public with few or no age-restrictions. Besides needing creative ad content—it needs to be legal. Additionally, you still may struggle for approval from local authorities regarding your ad’s size and location.
Local cannabis businesses, such as medical dispensaries, focus on marketing efforts to reach their local demographic. Traditional prints in the forms of flyers, catalogs, and ads in local magazines are still regarded as essential for localized advertising campaigns.
Consumers expect to see or receive printed catalogs in your store explaining product types and prices.
Older generations—who are very relevant to the medical cannabis market—respond better to print ads and flyers that they can attach to their refrigerators or on bulletin boards with your contact info. You can buy ad space in locally printed and distributed magazines as a way to strengthen your brand’s presence in your community.
Even such a basic advertising technique as attractive storefronts is worth the effort. Your storefront is your first interaction with customers. Try using your storefront to depict your brand’s identity, convey your marketing values, and drive in-shop traffic.
Any banners, window-prints, or images used on the storefront of licensed dispensaries must comply with the local regulations.
As yet, you may not have heard a word of cannabis advertising in TV commercials or radio ads. The truth is, there is still a strict resistance to allowing cannabis commercials on the national or local level.
Acreage Holding’s had their request canceled by CBS to run their commercial for its cannabis investment firm during the Super Bowl. The same occurred with a Lowell Farms commercial—their ad was denied from airing during the Academy Awards.
While the attempts to approve a national commercial have ended with failure, another commercial managed to air locally. It ran on BRAVO, Discovery, and the History Channel in the greater Los Angeles area, and on CBS TV 2 Virgin Islands—a CBS affiliate.
The public’s tolerance for broadcast cannabis ads is considered a giant leap forward for the future.
While traditional advertising options look limited and stacked with multiple legal roadblocks, the online sphere offers better chances for cannabis advertisements.
Cannabis advertising on Facebook, Instagram, or Google Ads aren’t options. Due to their public exposure, these platforms’ policies prohibit paid cannabis ads. However, the digital world still has open channels offering paid cannabis advertisement plans. Let’s walk you through the most common places to place your ad.
Your first destination to advertise your products should be your digital storefront. Cannabis directories allow businesses to list their brands and sell their products directly to consumers.
The two leading directories, Leafly and Weedmaps, offer retailers, clinics, and brands different advertisement plans to maximize their digital presence and online revenue streams.
Leafly is the world’s largest cannabis directory. Their advertisement solutions for retailers offer targeted advertising tools and an online reservation system for pre-ordering and pick-up. They also provide doctors space to place ads for patients who are looking for medical marijuana guidance on their platform.
Weedmaps offers retailers a chance to build a point-of-sale system linked to their digital stock. They help retailers maximize their sales by managing promotions and deals on their store pages. Their advertisement solutions extend to brands’ owners, allowing them to verify retailers and expand their sales through the wholesale marketplace.
Eaze is another successful e-commerce concept that extends its scope to offer delivery services. Partnering with them as a brand or a licensed dispensary brings you a substantial reach in the areas they operate.
If you are looking for alternative directories for your business, you can find more in this updated list of marijuana directories.
As education and trust are unique, central values of the cannabis industry, review directories for products become an essential part of your marketing plan and an attractive option for your advertisement campaign.
Review directories offer educational content for their readers and assist their purchase process through honest reviews of brands and products.
Some of these directories even specialize in certain product types focusing their scope on niche markets.
CBD Oil Review is an excellent example of review directories.
As an investigational group, they help CBD oil users choose the right product and answer common health questions.
Once your products prove successful and reviews attain a four-star average rating, you can boost them with targeted ads on their platform.
While buying ad space in a print magazine was the traditional venue of yesteryear, placing an online banner in a digital magazine is the future of tomorrow.
Compared to traditional printed ads, paid digital magazine ads help advertisers instantly reach their target audience at lower costs, all while allowing for lower conversion costs, ad traffic analysis, and long-term SEO benefits.
The Cannabis community is starving for news about legalization, new products, business growth, and educational content. That’s why digital magazines can genuinely claim to have millions of ad views and social engagement and offer their platforms as a powerful way to mass market to cannabis customers.
High Times is a premium choice for cannabis advertising. Since its foundation in 1974, the magazine has been a reliable source of information to over a million monthly visitors. They feature article topics ranging from cultivation and legalization to entertainment and culture and hard-hitting news exposing the war on drugs.
Cannabis Culture offers high exposure—claiming one million monthly ads impressions on its pages, incorporating the newest technology, design, and online features to give advertisers better value and visibility.
Cannabis magazines like Cannabis Now offer dual plans for printed and digital versions of the magazine for businesses who want to attract and target a multi-generational market.
Popular cannabis culture blogs such as The Weed Blog, Marijuana Business Daily, or Cannabis Business Executive are alternative solutions for print magazines. These blogs attract millions of online sessions on their pages covering educational content and industry news.
Advertisers can choose blogs that target their audience and between different digital ad assets, including simple page banners, featured videos, newsletters, events, and webinars.
Nielsen’s advertising survey showed that trust in editorial content had dominated all kinds of ads (TV, radio, magazine, online, etc.) between the five concurrent consumer generations.
Furthermore, where paid ads undergo multiple legal and social restrictions in the cannabis industry, inbound advertising based on content prevails as a vital component of an advertisement plan.
Customers start their purchasing process with two significant steps: searching for a solution to a condition or ailment from which they are suffering (or need they are having) and researching the answer to educate themselves. You need to tackle these two aspects when building your advertisement content.
Content advertising online can take one of many common forms:
Try to focus on Q&As, How-to, and “listicles.” People will be most likely attracted to an article directly addressing their problem, formulated in an instructional way, or easily broken-down with listed items.
A transcribed conversation with a doctor can be very relevant to medical CBD users. Interviews with customers or patients is a useful tool to build trust with new customers.
Use snippets of your latest articles to lure followers back to your website, focus on your newsletter’s emails on interesting posts like local news and information about new products.
While ads are prohibited on most social media networks, you can get organic traffic only via engaging content tailored to attract comments, shares, and conversions to your website. Advertising cannabis on Facebook and other social media is possible with some techniques you can learn in our article on cannabis social media marketing.
Mix your content with creative infographics, especially data and facts, to catch the reader’s eye better and make the information easier to digest.
We have covered the legal framework of advertisement activities and the different tactics to include in your advertisement plan. We will now look at how to make cannabis ads suitable.
What you should be avoiding in your cannabis advertising.
Not because it’s illegal, but because people will tend to avoid brands whose product claims are excessively misrepresented. On the contrary, you need to be very accurate, precise, and scientifically-backed when mentioning your products’ supporting claims in ads.
Avoid using images of the plants themselves in your ad, as well as people consuming the product. Besides being prohibited, such photos would distract viewers from your business’s image and leave them with little attachment to your brand.
Unsolicited pop-up advertising has a bad reputation, especially for the cannabis industry. People tend to associate it with fraudulent and hostile advertising.
The key aspects to focus on to ensure successful cannabis advertising.
Many new businesses will miss out on business by focusing on what they sell rather than who they are. Common practices like these, followed by ERBA, show how the company has focused on brand identity, placing their business’s name and image ahead of their product. You can also overcome most advertising restrictions by not mentioning the product or including any photos in your ad messages.
The industry’s top brands reserve a large share of their marketing material for educational content and add keywords about their product’s educational aspects to trigger cannabis users’ curiosity to ask questions and learn more about their purchase journey.
Knowing your audience is a start, but speaking their language paves the way for your ad to make a connection with them and to guide their decision-making. “Do it for the gram (Instagram)” was an approach from Eaze to speak to the younger, Instagram-enthusiastic generation as part of a unique mix of cannabis audience.
The more local your ad-context, the more relevant it will be for your customers. When they see their city or state name in context, you’ll catch your audience’s eye, allowing your ad to speak to them personally and help to solidify your brand as their cannabis partner.
Many cannabis enthusiasts see themselves as part of a social movement, more than just another consumer group. Addressing the need with messages advocating the cause is a quick way to come under your audience’s radar.
There are two main takeaways to conclude about cannabis advertising. Firstly, options are not as limited as they seem, and secondly, content is a critical element.
Taking another look at all the legal, currently available alternatives for your advertising campaigns, you have various options to reach out to your audience, especially if you consider digital advertising.
Content for your ads must be high-quality and unique. Additionally, cannabis advertising must consider complex legal and ethical restrictions. You should design content to cover extensive educational needs. Claims must be accurate and be scientifically backed.