Perhaps one of the most surprising acts to come out of Canada in the past ten years is The Cannabis Act: a 2018 federal act coined by Justin Trudeau, which made cannabis legal in all provinces and territories for adults 18 and over. At the time, this made Canada only the second country in the world to legalize recreational cannabis, a move that has since triggered a variety of countries to follow in their footsteps. Either by easing restrictions, making marijuana available during specific events, or legalizing the drug altogether. This points to an essential question within these continuous trends, is the cannabis industry going to become one of the fastest-growing industries globally throughout the 2020s?
The short answer is yes; the cannabis industry is increasing. According to Investopedia, global sales are expected to reach $33.6 billion by 2025, and the popularity of the drug has soared with a 6% increase in young Canadian adults consuming the drug. However, though growth industry-wide has soared, there are still numerous obstacles cannabis companies face; possibilities of harsher regulations among governments, strict interest rates, negative views of the drug through high usages during the pandemic, and restrictive access to bank funding due to the industry the companies work within.
Another side to the cannabis industry that is often overlooked is successfully digital marketing your cannabis brand amidst these ongoing challenges. With a mix of heavy competition due to the industry's growth, alongside various advertising regulations on social media platforms/digital channels, utilizing digital marketing strategies concerning specific laws is perhaps the most effective way in getting your cannabis company seen by potential customers.
There are already thousands of articles related to utilizing digital marketing techniques. This article, specific to the most updated regulations within the Cannabis market across various countries and digital platforms, will give you five important ways to improve your digital marketing within the industry.
1) Become Aware of the Cannabis Advertising Regulations Within Your Country
Though not as exciting as the various marketing techniques we'll get into, understanding the cannabis advertising regulations of your specific region and digital platform is perhaps the most crucial step to creating cost-effective and responsible digital strategies.
Imagine you are working on a TikTok content marketing campaign, have hired a content creator to make the videos, to find out that once posted, the videos are removed from the App by TikTok because they violated the app's promotion guidelines? Or if you had not done a proper background check on an influencer, you paid to promote your products and found out that the cannabis products were being encouraged to an age group of 14-17-year-olds? These situations could severely harm your company's finances, reputation, and ability to conduct future online operations, as specific platforms could have your account/website removed permanently.
One of the best ways to familiarize yourself with cannabis advertising regulations, specifically within the digital world, is to first know the specific rules within each social media platform:
Cannabis Advertising Regulations for Each Major Social Media Platform:
Instagram - As stated in Instagram's Help Centre, "Instagram doesn't allow people or organizations to use the platform for advertising or selling marijuana, regardless of the seller's state or country. Our policy prohibits any marijuana seller, including dispensaries, from promoting their business by providing contact information like phone numbers, email addresses, street addresses or using the "contact us" tab in Instagram Business Accounts. However, we do allow people to include a website link in their bio information."
Facebook - There are two primary sections in Facebook's advertising policies that bring up recreational cannabis promotion. In the Unsafe Substances section, Facebook states that "ads must not promote the sale or use of illicit or recreational drugs, or other unsafe substances, products or supplements, as determined by Facebook in its sole discretion. Drug-related paraphernalia, such as bongs, rolling white paper, and vaporized delivery devices, are prohibited from promotional use. Avoid images that use recreational or medical marijuana, smoking-related items like bongs, and any sign that recreational drugs are being consumed." However, it is stated in the Tobacco and related products that "blogs or groups connecting people with tobacco and related products interests are allowed, as long as the service does not lead to the sale of tobacco or tobacco related products."
TikTok - Within TikTok's in-depth Advertising Policy rulebook from their Business Help Center, cannabis is listed as a "prohibited product." that is not allowed to be advertised on the platform. Specifically, the practice of "promotion, sale, solicitation of, or facilitation of access to illegal drugs, controlled drugs, prescriptive drugs, drugs for recreation" and an important point to take note of which we will dive into later on in the article, "depictions of featuring of drugs-related words, symbols, or images whether in the form of visual or audio content, or any of such."
Youtube - As of 2021, Youtube is "expanding monetization on educational, documentary or news content that may include violent interactions with law enforcement, recreational drugs and drug-related content, or sensitive events." Meaning, while Youtube still does not directly support the promotion of cannabis products, the platform considers cannabis content that informs of its safe usage—making Youtube one of the friendlier major social media platforms compared to the others listed so far.
Twitter - Twitter prohibits the promotion of drugs (including cannabis) on the platform. Although this regulation is in place, it does not apply to hemp and information regarding the cannabis industry. Alongside Youtube, it is less strict than Instagram, TikTok, and Facebook towards cannabis content creators.
Snapchat - the good news for those in Canada is that Snapchat has decided to start accepting marketing dollars from Canadian Licensed Producers and cannabis-related technology companies, making it one of the few powerful platforms to promote the drug to those customers 19 and older. In other countries, the advertising of the drug is prohibited, though Canadian adults on the platform can begin to see the cannabis advertisements flowing into their Explore Page.
Now that we have given the necessary regulations on social media platforms let's take a quick, simplified look at the Canadian and American advertising laws surrounding cannabis promotion.
Cannabis Advertising Regulations Within Canada:
Drawn from The Cannabis Act, which represents provincial and territorial jurisdictions, there contains "exceptions that provide limited authorizations for the promotion of cannabis and cannabis accessories and services related to cannabis by certain persons in specific circumstances."
The Cannabis Act states that is authorized to produce, sell or distribute cannabis may promote cannabis using an informational promotion or brand-reference promotion if the advertisement is: addressed to only adults 18 or older; in a place where young people are not permitted by law; the cannabis business owner has taken steps to ensure that the promotion cannot be accessed by a younger person; the rise of cannabis is done in a prescribed location.
The Act also lists an in-depth description of what is prohibited promotion of cannabis. The most essential aspects being that the advertisement does not include; information about its price or distribution; appeal to young persons; by means of a testimonial or endorsement; by means of the depiction of a person, character or animal; and presenting it or any of its brand elements in a manner that associates it or the brand element with, or evokes a positive or negative emotion or image of, a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.
Summed up, if an authorized company is able to promote, create, and sell marijuana products, it must do so in a way that abides by the Cannabis Act regulations listed above. Make sure to not glamorize marijuana or marijuana-related products, and stay away from creating content that appeals to young people; high school parties, playgrounds, family road trips, school cafeteria content scenarios for example.
Cannabis Advertising Regulations Within the United States:
The United States differs exponentially from the Canadian laws because cannabis isn't legal across the entire United States, but rather, in a select few. Even then, there are various levels of legality; some states have only legalized medical marijuana, some have only allowed for CBD oil, and four states have outlawed marijuana products altogether (Idaho, Wyoming, Kansas, and South Carolina). As of May 21st, 2021, 36 states and four territories have legalized medical marijuana. As of January 2022, however, only 19 states have fully legalized weed, including the recreational use of it (drawn from the DISA's interactive map of marijuana legality).
Since the United States offers varied laws on cannabis advertising by state, it would truly depend on which state you are located, As well, if you are considered authorized to sell and promote marijuana with the necessary licenses. A great place to start would be viewing Foottraffik's State-by-State guide to cannabis advertising regulations. Colorado, for example, has a unique rule that states a marijuana establishment may not participate in marketing via the Internet if the establishment's online presence is found to have at least 30% of their potential customers to be under the age of 21. Understanding the unique laws in your area will better equip you for your digital marketing campaigns.
With the combination of social media and these countries' regulations around marijuana advertising, what does one do with this information? It's clear that social media channels, with some exceptions, remain relatively strict with the promotion of marijuana. Alongside this, Canada and the United States' varied laws on marijuana may confuse cannabis marketers on what is or isn't acceptable. The important thing to note is, as long as you are a legitimate, safe, and responsible cannabis business, there will be a place for you in the digital world. Improving your digital marketing strategies should be a top priority though, and it begins with building a key digital asset; your home site.
2) Empower Your Cannabis Business Through Strong Website + SEO Strategies
While many marketers quickly jump to ideas of influencer marketing campaigns, before any external marketing implementations occur, your cannabis company should first and foremost have a strong home website. The homesite is your digital anchor, whatever social media channels you place yourself on, should all lead back to your website. Typically, a website has four sections, an "About Us" section, that details your company's purpose, a "Process" section that explains budgets/strategies your company uses, a "products/services" section that lists what you sell, and importantly, the "Blogs" section, which lists written content on specific topics related to your company's the purpose/industry.
Blog posts in the cannabis industry are important because they can attract various customers from different social media platforms to check out your website. For example, if a follower on your Instagram sees you post an article about "Six Trends the American Cannabis Industry is Currently Facing", they may click the attached website link in your account's bio and view the website. This will bump up your digital presence and allow for the customer to view cannabis products that you wouldn't have been able to promote on Instagram.
When crafting blog posts, keep your blog titles specific and intriguing enough for an individual to want to click them. The average users only spends 37 seconds on a blog post (43% skim through the blog posts which points to such short reading rates) which may sound defeating, though over 77 percent of the Internet reads blog posts, which makes them necessary across any industry. With blogs in mind, how do you differentiate yourself within the cannabis blogoverse when thousands of others are posting similar content to you? The answer: Title. Specification.
Title specification can take you from the 29th SERP page (search engine results page) to the 1st. Let's say you had a blog idea for organic cannabis growth techniques. Instead of titling your blog "How to Grow Cannabis Organically", title it "Three Easy Ways to Grow Cannabis Organically." This gives your blog a specific, rather than the general lens of focus as there will be less competition in the search engine for the latter title.
As you write your blogs, make sure to use bolding techniques like this to highlight the important points of your cannabis topics for those who simply want to skim through them. Use links like this to improve your SEO and give references to specific data in your data. Additionally, use headings and images to structure your blog, and give it some air to breathe in between the many paragraphs.
Finally, take advantage of SEO keywording techniques within your cannabis blog to utilize stronger rankings on search engines. As stated by WordStream, SEO keywords are the keywords and phrases in your web content that make it possible for people to find your site via search engines. To do this, you can view databases that have free SEO keyword industry trends like NISONCO or purchase a membership to a keywording software program that allows for you to see the necessary keywords needed from your article title. Allowing you to beat out your competitors in the search engines. Competition is fierce in the cannabis industry, but it means there are exciting opportunities to advance yourself in this ever-growing field.
While a home website is important, social media channels are where you truly engage with customers. But how does a cannabis company owner succeed on SM platforms amidst strict regulations on cannabis content? They get clever with their content.
3) Get Clever with Your Cannabis Content (With Regulations in Mind)
For the sake of sales, create content that brings customers to your website where products are allowed to be shown. For the sake of brand awareness, hop on current trends across each specific social media platform that could possibly match your customers' interests. And for the sake of regulations, don't utilize trends that may be popular, but have target audiences meant for anyone under the age of 19 in Canada (Except for Quebec which is now 21, and Alberta which is 18), and 21 in the United States.
Getting clever with your content means finding ways to reach target audiences of cannabis users within the legal age of cannabis use. By creating content that is so fun, informative, or hilarious that they just have to see more of your brand. For example, as touched on in the TikTok regulations, any drug-related word, symbol, or image referencing marijuana in your TikTok can be removed. This can be anything from an innocent plant emoji hinting at cannabis, or the cannabis product being displayed in the video. However, you still have room for engaging content.
Make zen videos that showcase nature, green colours, and the themes you want your company to represent. This can be a nature walk, a "go-to this place" TikTok that might interest users. Or you can make an Instagram post with a hooking text-based prompt about a new important update in the cannabis industry. Oftentimes, the best cannabis industry content posts on social media are engaging, respectful of age demographics, and bring traffic to that company's home website.
So, when making clever content, don't simply showcase your products (which may not be allowed on several platforms listed above), showcase an experience. Experiences are more subtle, less likely to be taken down than product promotion. If you are to bring in products, consider more subtle items used in marijuana. Create a line of beautifully designed weed jars, trendy CBD oils, or ethically sourced rolling papers. With a dynamic list of cannabis products that aren't all entirely cannabis itself, you'll be able to create more content with those items. This is because jars can be used beyond cannabis (which would be accepted in regulations), CBD oils can mirror essential oils currently popular, and the ethically sourced rolling paper could focus more on the material it is made out of rather than what it is used for.
There are a plethora of ways cannabis brands can use their products/company mission in social media, it just takes creative efforts, alongside a respect for the regulations in place.
4) Utilize External Sources of Digital Marketing (Influencer Marketing Campaigns)
An influencer marketing strategy is becoming known as one of the most important marketing channels for cannabis companies. For every dollar spent on an influencer, brands earn $6.50. While the money does talk, many in government aren't convinced of the marketing practice through its various 'misleadings' of product information. Many influencers and the businesses providing products to them have been sued and charged, with unfair and deceptive advertising. In fact, since the legalization of weed in countries like Canada and states like California, false advertising and unfair competition claims have risen dramatically.
So, while influencer marketing is attractive for the dollar signs it generates, running into legal trouble may cost a company more (especially their reputation) if they promote misleading advertising. This showcases that to create positive influencer marketing campaigns, choose quality over quantity. Communicate with an influencer who is willing to try your products, review them with honesty, and give clarity to their followers about your product.
Imagine conducting an influencer campaign with someone who doesn't try your product, attempts to describe it to their audience, just to get a bunch of negative reviews from customers whose product experience was different from the influencer's description. Even if your products are good, they may be severely different from the way your influencer described them; which makes them misleading. Under the Consumer Protection Act formed in 1986, this tactic can as well be considered illegal depending on the circumstances.
Transparency is key in influencer collaborations. Get to know your influencer, respect their needs, see if the relationship can build to the point that trust is established. Then describe your products, see if it interests them and if their demographics are geared towards adults. It would be recommended to get a copy of their cross-platform demographics, just to ensure that those under the legal age of cannabis usage in their specific country don't make up the bulk of their followers/subscribers. Clarity will be assured from this, and a long-term influencer relationship can be formed.
5) Understand the Responsibility that Goes Along with Cannabis Marketing
Cannabis is restricted in regulations, largely because it is a drug. That is a fair statement, no one would want children browsing the Internet to actively view cannabis content. Though, social media makes anything easy to view. Similarly, advertisements across other sites can somehow end up being viewed by children and teens. This makes cannabis marketing especially responsible, for ensuring that their marketing campaigns are not geared towards trends made up entirely by a young demographic.
Not only because this could lead to punishments, but because it is the right thing to do. Honest, clear marketing targeted to adults is essential. Even then, restrictions are placed if the brand glorifies the drug in an advertisement (see Step #1), or if it promotes excessive use. This is another reason why alternative products to cannabis by cannabis brands are a strong way to further profits, while not promoting excessive usage of the drug. A beautifully designed cannabis jar would not measure the number of times that person smoked, but simply that the cannabis can be kept there. CBD oils, similarly are becoming popular, alternative uses to direct cannabis.
Cannabis marketing can be an exciting opportunity, but the accountability of companies is needed for fair advertising, responsible demographic marketing, and reasonable content across their digital channels. In the long run, this strengthens you financially (less likely of being sued), and builds healthy customer relationships through honest presentations of the product.