Confused About What You Can and Can’t Say Online for Cannabis Advertising?

Cannabis companies, just like any business, depend on reaching customers and building their brand through digital advertising. Newspapers and magazines no longer dominate as buyers spend much of their time online.

A survey by Media Dynamics found that a typical adult’s digital media consumption clocked 9.8 hours per day in 2014. A report by Nielsen says that the average American spends 11 hours per day with electronic media, which includes TV, radio, internet, smartphone, gaming and other multimedia devices.

Digital Branding Across Channels Has Huge Reach

With people constantly switching devices, digital advertising allows your brand to live across channels. Your advertising can reach exponentially larger audiences in a way that is both real-time and personal. That’s important. People love content and they love to consume it at a rapid pace on whatever device is convenient for them at the time. The challenge is to meet (and surpass) your customers’ expectations by engaging them with strong, relevant, and ever-changing content.

Tall order? Well, with cannabis advertising, things are even more challenging because there are a lot of restrictions when it comes to what you can and can’t say online. Let’s take a look at what companies need to do to avoid getting their websites and social profiles taken down.

How to Avoid Having Your Company’s Digital Footprint Shut Down

Across the board, regardless of state, country, and the status of cannabis legalization, Facebook and Instagram do not allow any content that promotes the sale of cannabis. Dispensaries are prohibited from providing contact information like phone numbers or street addresses. Cannabis advocacy content is allowed, however, as long as it isn’t promoting sales. Even popular Seattle-based cannabis marketer and social media influencer Bess Byers has had her Instagram account (with nearly 100,000 followers) shuttered repeatedly.  

Instagram’s terms of service don’t explicitly state anything about cannabis, but they do say: “Offering sexual services, buying or selling firearms and illegal or prescription drugs (even if it’s legal in your region) is also not allowed.” Byers doesn’t sell cannabis, she just posts pictures of it on her accounts as content sponsored by cannabis companies.  

You can see how there might be some grey areas. You do need to be careful about content on these powerful platforms because they are key to your brand outreach and engagement—and your brand storytelling.

Over on Twitter, the platform prohibits the promotion of drugs and paraphernalia globally, including recreational drugs and dispensaries. Paying for sponsored content on these main platforms can be even more difficult. Basically, anything directly trying to drive people to products isn’t allowed. Enlisting the help of social influencers, with large numbers of organic followers, gets your brand story noticed. These individuals can sample your products and talk about them.

Federal regulations in Canada may soften over time as the industry matures, but cannabis companies currently can’t promote people or events, use celebrity endorsements, or show “glamour, recreation, risk, excitement or daring behaviors.” They can’t show the marijuana plant, and their product packaging has to be very subdued and utilitarian with facts on product dosing and ingredients.

Tell Your Company Story Instead of Advertising Your Products

But you can talk about your company, your people, mission, and culture. As Leafly suggests, “Share the content that makes your brand special.” Write articles that highlight the latest science, share industry strategies, showcase customer testimonials about how their lives have changed, get your CEO talking about what your company is all about and what you hope to achieve. Whether you’re writing articles for blog content or shooting video of your employees, demonstrate to your audience that your brand has a lot of compelling content to offer.

Develop a content mix to keep your audience engaged with podcasts, photos, short stories, infographics, and videos, for example. (Note that if you’re looking to post videos on YouTube, you can’t include links to your website if you’re selling your products online, and your videos can’t contain any imagery of your products.)

Create a dialogue with a poll to see what sort of information customers would like you to share, and try to be responsive and deliver within reason. Have a survey for customers on your website that asks about their experience with your product.

Get Your Digital Ads on Alternative Platforms That Cater to Cannabis

Consider purchasing ads on popular apps like Weedmaps, Leafly or MassRoots to reach potential customers. Apps in the cannabis space are coming on strong, including MyDx, a diagnostic app that comes with a companion device so people can test cannabis samples before imbibing.

You may even decide to create your own branded app that helps promote push notifications, sale promotions, reminders, and personalized messages.

It’s all about engaging content! So get familiar with the rules of cannabis advertising and develop your company’s digital potential. Remember, the last thing you want is your social accounts or website to get shut down, so when in doubt, use a reputable marketing agency who has experience in the cannabis industry and can ensure you can tell your brand story without risk of getting shut down.