A Brief Overview of Cannabis Advertising
January 2022 update: While not much has changed in terms of the rules and regulations surrounding cannabis advertising, the enforcement of these rules has become much more strict. In past years, adjusting ad copy was an effective strategy for getting ads reapproved. Google seems to be taking website content into consideration for ad disapprovals more than they have in the past. Because websites are crawled by bots, context is not taken into consideration and businesses who do not sell cannabis are still being impacted by Google’s recreational drug policy.
It’s official, cannabis is now legal for both recreational and medicinal use in Canada! You know what that means: an influx of new advertising opportunities!
While promoting cannabis services remains a constant challenge, advertisers are continuing to find a way to promote their services. And of course, search engine optimization still remains an excellent long term strategy!
Not so fast, paid advertising in the cannabis industry can be particularly tricky. Despite legal status across Canada and within several American states, most major advertising platforms still prohibit cannabis-related products and services. Where there’s a will, there’s a way! Read on for our brief guide to advertising a cannabis-based business on some of the internet’s biggest platforms.
Officially Google has “no drugs” policy despite legalization, and it doesn’t look like they’ll be changing their mind any time soon. What’s really unfortunate about this policy is that it places a blanket ban over anything remotely related to cannabis including lawyers, doctors, advertisers, job recruiters, education and training centres, and tonnes of other businesses that aren’t actually selling cannabis.
That being said, it is not impossible to advertise on Google Ads. First, know that there are some trigger words that are going to trip Google’s filters almost instantly: cannabis, 420, marijuana, canna, cbc, thc, hash, ganja (really?), buds, etc. The best way to deal with this is to get creative with your word choice. Try using terms such as: green, alternative medicine, alternative therapies, flowers (as opposed to bud), and Bill C-45. The more creative you can get without being too “out there”, the better.
Something to keep in mind is that with Google Ads it’s not a matter of if your ads will be disapproved, it’s a matter of when. Regardless of initial approved, it’s likely that your ads will be flagged eventually. If the ads are up and running, make the most of it and maximize your reach for as long as possible. One of the biggest risks the comes with attempting to run Google Ads is that Google can end up eventually banning your URL or domain all together if your ads are disapproved enough times. A common solution to this is to create a landing page instead and direct ads here.
Like Google, Facebook’s ad restrictions prohibit the promotion of recreational and medicinal cannabis, regardless of legal status. Advertising on Facebook can be brutal for cannabis businesses! Facebook can flag a page and simply not allow them to advertise. Even worse, Facebook can actually ban and remove pages all together. However, we’ve found a bit of a loophole around intent when trying to get ads approved. In past experience, we’ve had success getting ads approved that were related to cannabis information and/or education. As with Google, it’s crucial to be conscious about language choice and imagery, trying to avoid terms like cannabis, marijuana, 420, etc. whenever possible.
That being said, cannabis advertising on Facebook can still be wildly frustrating. Some of our own clients in the industry have struggled to even get ads approved and running in the first place. In our own experience, some ads have been able to run perfectly fine, with no issues whatsoever. The same ad with a slightly different image can be disapproved with no significant reason provided. Even after altering text, changing targeting, and playing with all the other settings, the ad can still be disapproved. Unfortunately, that’s just one of the realities of Facebook’s ad moderation.
Other social media
In terms of the cannabis community, Twitter is where it’s at! Despite their ad policies not allowing for the promotion of drugs or drug paraphernalia, Twitter isn’t too concerned with the types of accounts that exist, or the content that they choose to promote organically. This leniency makes Twitter a key platform for any cannabis-related business. LinkedIn has similar policies against paid cannabis promotion, but they do allow organic content promotion. The platform has entire groups dedicated to those involved the cannabis industry.
There are also a number of cannabis-specific social media platforms including WeedLife (a “green” solution to Facebook), WeedMaps (a cannabis-infused Yelp), and many others.
For those unfamiliar with the term, native advertising refers to ads that match the form and function of the site that they appear on. The result is natural looking ads that pair well with the existing content on the website. Native advertising platforms such as StackAdapt have some restrictions around the type of content on the promoted landing page (selling cannabis is still a no), in general they are a lot less restrictive than other advertising platforms. Part of the reason for this is because websites have a say about the type of promoted content they will allow on their site.
There are also a number of cannabis-specific platforms out there including Mantis, Leafly, Adistry, and 420 Network. These companies work to create a winning combination, pairing cannabis-related ads with pro-cannabis websites to generate the maximum relevant exposure for advertisers.
When it comes to promoting actual cannabis products, don’t expect to see an influx of ads any time soon. Within the Cannabis Act, there are strict guidelines around the packaging and promotion of cannabis. The regulations for cannabis advertising are very similar to those for tobacco. This means that if you’re a dispensary or other entity that actually sells cannabis, you may be out of luck when it comes to paid advertising, at least for now.
Despite there being strict rules and regulations limiting online cannabis advertising the fact of the matter is that there are ways to do it! Avoiding the common cannabis terminology and focusing on information and education are excellent starting places for your paid advertising strategy. If all else fails, a solid SEO strategy can elevate online presence and increase website traffic. The truth is, it’s a time for experimenting and pushing boundaries. Even the so-called experts in cannabis advertising are still learning. As policies evolve and legislation changes it will be interesting to see how online cannabis promotion grows over time.
Need help with your company’s digital marketing strategy? Contact Adster Creative today!