As with any industry, advertising acts as a bridge between cannabis businesses and consumers. Digital advertising—meeting the people where they are, on the internet—is a growing phenomenon. But, as many cannabis business owners are finding out, the digital sphere is not always friendly to the cannabis world.
So, what’s the move?
You need to get your message in front of your prospective customer base. You need digital channels to do so. With a minefield of uncertain policies toward cannabis businesses across many of the most popular social media platforms, it’s hard to know where to allocate resources.
Dorota Umeno, principal at Canna Ventures, describes the nuances of an effective digital advertising strategy and best practices for businesses across the cannabis supply chain.
What are some common restrictions that exist for cannabis companies when it comes to digital advertising?
Cannabis references in copy, content, images are discouraged, disallowed or straight-up banned on mainstream digital advertising and social platforms.
Cannabis industry businesses, including those offering ancillary services who want to promote themselves on any of the dominant, not-officially-cannabis-friendly advertising or social media platforms have to engage in significant self-censorship. They need to sanitize their ads or content to minimize or disappear cannabis references or keep them vague. This affects references to any components of marijuana, including terms like CBD.
For example, for the primary online advertising platforms like Google Ads (formerly AdWords) advertisers have to avoid using cannabis or related terminology in the ad copy; avoid images in display ads; and avoid both words and images on the landing page. Failing to do so might result in ads not getting approved, getting disapproved, or the account being shut down altogether. The frustrating part of this is that at times it is possible to slip some ads past the censorship, but it requires ninja skills and luck. The key to success is flexibility and creativity. Don't just have a Plan A, have a Plan B and a Plan C in place. Any campaign can be digital if there's a link bringing the audience to your website, your shopping cart, or your physical location to buy.
Where can cannabis companies place digital ads?
Depending on the nature of the product or the service, cannabis companies may be able to advertise on mainstream platforms, like Google Ads, Bing Ads, Amazon and the social platforms. Otherwise, there is a world of more or less established cannabis friendly platforms out there, such as Mantis, Leafly, Traffic Roots, 420network, High Times and more.
What kinds of digital advertising campaigns work well for cannabis companies?
The answer depends on the nature of the product or service being offered. The best campaign is the one that reaches your ideal audience where they are in a way that resonates, gets them to click on your ad, view your video, read your post or follow a link back to your website or physical store to learn about and buy your product or service. In our experience the best approach combines different channels and platforms to engage your audience where they may be at the time.
What website design advice can you offer cannabis companies?
Prioritize function over form. Design for clarity and ease of navigation and for mobile first. Make it easy for visitors to find and access your website, help them figure out right away who you are, what you offer, and what you want them to do with a call to action and easy to see navigation.
Visually pleasing design matters, but it is secondary to functionality navigation, good content and a bug-free, user-friendly experience. Ensure that whoever builds your website knows the best practices for technical and on page search engine optimization (SEO).
What social media strategies can cannabis companies integrate into their digital advertising efforts?
This one is tough, because social media for cannabis companies of late has been hit or miss. Everyone has read about Facebook disappearing cannabis companies from search, [or] indiscriminately banning pages also on Instagram. Some companies are able to successfully maintain a presence on social media platforms by being very careful to avoid overt references to cannabis or related terms and keeping images neutral. Those companies can benefit from content boosting and advertising, and attracting engagement and sharing, and even sales through a social presence. A consistent content strategy with posting and boosting works best, but proceed with caution.
What are some overall digital advertising best practices for cannabis companies?
Keep it stealth, avoid overt references to cannabis on mainstream platforms. Have a Plan B in place in case your Plan A does not work out. Do not put all your eggs in one basket, have creative ready to run on multiple platforms and deploy with caution. Hire an experienced digital agency.
Top photo courtesy of Adobe Stock