Marijuana and cannabis were made legal in Canada over a month ago. With this move of the government, a whole new set of marijuana sellers now had an open market to sell their products. However, is the market really open to promote marijuana and weed businesses? Well, it isn’t completely. While content marketing, SEO and social media marketing is still a viable option for marijuana businesses, online advertising is still a restricted area for marijuana sellers to venture into. But that does not mean you cannot advertise your business at all. In this article, we plan to take a different angle on advertising and how you can use it to promote your marijuana business without getting into any trouble.
Restrictions and Laws of Advertising Marijuana and Cannabis
Before we begin to strategize how we can advertise marijuana products without any trouble, it is essential that we identify the laws and restrictions that surround the advertising and marketing of marijuana products. In the province of Alberta, the following restrictions surround the advertising of marijuana and other cannabis based products.
Sellers of marijuana and other cannabis based products are not allowed to provide any misleading information.
The sellers are not allowed to promote the use of marijuana products. Instead, they can promote the brand preferences. For example, the ads cannot show a model using marijuana but only display the brand name of your products.
The packing of cannabis and marijuana needs to follow all the mandatory packaging labels.
Business website of every marijuana seller needs to have an age filter to enable only visitors to view the website who are above the age of 18 years.
Marijuana sellers are not allowed to market their products to people under the age of 18 years.
In the marketing messages of cannabis, it cannot be associated with activities that require raising public awareness such as riding a car as driving under influence is not only dangerous but also punishable.
Marijuana and cannabis sellers are not allowed to openly display any poster promoting their products in their shop displays.
Advertisements related to marijuana can only be displayed in places where people under the age of 18 years are not allowed to venture.
The inclusion of the following in your ads is forbidden when advertising cannabis products under the Cannabis Act.
Cost of products
Depiction of models/celebrities using the product
Promotion with claims that are overly positive or negative
Displaying the use and consumption of cannabis
Only a cannabis store with a license can advertise the cost of cannabis products
These are some of the major rules and regulations that are applicable to businesses for advertising marijuana. Though these rules seem a little stringent, there is still scope for businesses to advertise marijuana and cannabis based products. In this article, we will discuss some smart ideas to advertise marijuana by complying with the law.
Guidelines to Advertise and Market Marijuana
Marketing and advertising marijuana with all the restrictions looming can seem difficult. However, for a business that really wants to strive and create a brand image for their pot shop, trying alternate methods is an option. Here are some alternate ideas to try.
1) Buy Alternate Ad Spaces
Popular online advertisement publishers such as Google Ads and Facebook Ads have a very strict policy against publishing ads about marijuana and cannabis. This makes it difficult for your business to publish even basic ads. Why? Because these platforms have triggers to reject ads that include popular keywords that have anything to do with marijuana. So how can you advertise about your weed products? By choosing to publish your ads on alternate publishing platforms. This is done with the help of programmatic ad buying. Programmatic ad buying refers to the process of using a third party software to buy ad space and target it to audiences who are interested in buying marijuana products. These ads are generally placed automatically on websites that will accept your ads without any issues. You could try publishing your online ads on Revoffers or Mantis. These are ad publishing networks that do not restrict the promotion of marijuana based products.
2) Use Content if Not Ads
Social media is a good platform to tap audiences based on their interests. However, the social media platforms have not yet opened their doors for marijuana. At least not on social media ads. Again advertising on major social media platforms such as Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc. is prohibited. But that shouldn’t stop you from using social media platforms to promote your marijuana business and products. Instead of using the advertising option of these platforms, use the content sharing option. Create informative content about the uses of marijuana and share it on social media. It will not only enable you to impart knowledge to your target audience but also help you rank well on the SERPs. Sometimes you may have noticed that Twitter cards tend to rank better on the SERPs, especially when people use the hashtags to search on Google. So why not use this to your benefit? Create content and publish it on social media and start promoting your marijuana business.
3) Use Influencers to Advertise
We already discussed how major platforms such as Google, Facebook, Instagram, etc. tend to remove ads and content that have marijuana related keywords. Therefore, you need to find another alternative. That other alternate is influencer marketing. What if you do not create your own content but got someone else to promote your business and products instead? Well, that is what influencer marketing is all about. Social media is an open platform where anyone and everyone can share their opinions. If you could collaborate with an influential social media user to post content that talks about your weed products, you will be advertising your products by following marijuana advertising laws for marijuana products. The other benefit is that such influencers will have a large number of followers, who in turn will be sharing the same content among their own circle. This will enhance your product visibility. You could alternately urge your followers to add posts on social media and mention your business. One such example is the Jardin Premium Cannabis Dispensary that got a tremendous outcome from simply their followers sharing photos on their kiosk.
4) User Old Strategies
Even though we are focusing on the online advertising strategies for marijuana, we can’t help but look for solutions in some offline methods as online ads have restrictions. Let us check out what options we have to get a strong hold for your marijuana brand. Why not hit the streets or malls and set a kiosk to gain subscriptions? How? Well, use your kiosk to hand out promotional products and in return ask people to share their contact details. Now you once you have their contact details you can create a list and target this audience through SMSs and emails. Now be really careful when using email marketing as not all mail providers are ok with marijuana and may mark you as spam. You need to sit down with a professional and figure out how you can draft emails that lands in the inbox of your target audience. You could also choose some other traditional advertising methods such as handing out pamphlets.
5) Provide Experience to Gain Customers
With the legalization of marijuana, the sale of marijuana increased drastically. However, as a marijuana business owner, you still need to plan a marketing strategy if you want to stand out from the multiple sellers selling different types of cannabis based products. Why not appeal to the users by providing them an experience apart from the direct product itself. By creating experiences for your target audience, you will not only be engaging them but also get customer details for your business. We already discussed one good example of experience advertising that Jardin used. When Jardin Premium Cannabis Dispensary set up a photo kiosk for their target audience, they didn’t do it with the aim to sell more of their products. They did it with the intention to acquire more leads. By enabling audiences to click photos at their booth and agreeing to email those photos to them later, the team at Jardin got hold of customer email ids. So it is not necessary that every effort you take should culminate in a sale. Sometimes spending on providing an experience to your audience can also help you get hot, or should I say pot leads.
6) Consider Native Advertising
Native advertising is a form of business promotion in which the business is promoted on different online platforms. During such promotions, the content is drafted in such a way that it fits the existing platforms requirements and does not seem like a promotion. For example, websites like Weedmaps are not only good directories to enlist your marijuana website but also a good platform to try native advertising. You can get in touch with such platforms and collaborate with them to include your product details in their content. For example, you can urge one such platform to link to your products in their marijuana blog. Since native advertising also creates a good backlinking opportunity for your website, it automatically helps in boosting your SEO ranking in the SERPs.
7) Use Public Relations
Public relations is not only restricted to celebrities. A lot of businesses are using public relations these days to issue announcements. And given the fact that marijuana is a celebrity that is in the spotlight after the legalization in Canada, why not use some public relations to advertising our star? Of course, you can! In public relations, you can simply publish a press release to make an announcement about your business. Now, this announcement performs the task of grabbing the much needed attention towards your business. The good thing about issuing a press release is that there are no hard and fast restrictions on the content that you publish. This becomes a blessing for marijuana sellers. But what exactly will you add in your press release? Think of the current happenings within your business. Are there any major acquisitions? Are you planning an event any time soon? All of these can be covered in a press release and published online to enhance your marijuana brand. There is also another way to grab attention. Try to become a part of someone else’s press release. This can be done by connecting with similar businesses or by being a sponsor in someone else’s event. You just need to choose the right type of event, keeping in mind your target audience.
8) Publish Online Newsletters
We already discussed how Jardin Premium Cannabis Dispensary chose to take a different approach to acquire the email addresses of their target audience. You too need to create a strategy to acquire as many interested email ids as possible. But what will you do with those email ids? Of course, there is email marketing, but you could also use them to share content to advertise your product with the target audience via online newsletters. Online newsletters are e-publications that are issued often to keep their subscribers informed about the topic of their interest. Again, these newsletters do not have any strict restrictions on the content that is published, and hence, these newsletters can be an amazing medium to advertise your marijuana business. What more? You can even come up with separate newsletters for your varied audience. For example, you can divide your subscriber list as medical users, recreational users and business connections. Based on the divisions, you can send a different newsletter to each group.
9) Choose Words Wisely
For this, they filter out ads based on the keyword and other words used in the ad. But what if you used these publisher’s to promote marijuana without actually using the word marijuana? You could create ads about your marijuana business and collaborations without creating an ad that directly sells the product. This may get your ad displayed as you will not be directly promoting of selling marijuana products. These online ad publishers prohibit the sale and use of marijuana so don’t sell, use your ads to simply get people to know that you exist. For example, create a business ad inviting investors to invest in your business.
10) Consider GIFs for Promotion
We cannot start to explain how popular meme and GIFs are in today’s world. GIFs started off as a fun method of sharing moving pictures on your social media profiles. They soon turned out to be an amazing method of promoting products and services online as well. Many businesses picked the method of posting GIFs about their products to features in the stories of their followers. Especially on social media platforms such as Instagram. You could use it too to promote your funky marijuana based products. All you need to do is create moving picture promoting your brand and post it on different platforms that are marijuana friendly. You can also send across GIFs in your emails to your subscribers. GIFs, in fact, have a better chance of grabbing the attention of your target audience as it has motion compared to static poster ads and also, you can create scrollable GIFs for a better user experience.
11) Practice Tracking Techniques
Technological automation has changed the face of how businesses promote themselves online. Earlier businesses had to wait for results and conversions to decide how effective their campaign efforts were. But now, online business promotion analysis is just a matter of a few minutes. With better tracking and analysis techniques you can quickly find out how well your campaign efforts are doing. This technique is majorly used in online paid advertising forms such as pay per click advertising. However, since we cannot use PPC advertising, how can we use the benefits of such analytical tools? By the mechanism of URL tracking. URL tracking is the method of including unique identifications in your website URLs to get analytical data. For example, if you are sending out emails of upcoming promotional offers of your online pot shop, use a promo code to see how many people actually used it. You should also add a URL track to the very landing page that is linked in the email to find out how many people actually clicked the link. Such types of tracking techniques help you with the data that will let you choose your next advertising effort wisely. If you know something works, you can use that technique again and vice versa.
12) Print in Local Publications
Restrictions on marijuana advertising is not only in the online advertising circle but also in the traditional advertising platforms such as newspapers and magazine. So even though we urged you earlier to use traditional advertising methods, you may have to count out the major newspaper publications and magazine. But again, there are alternate publications that are still ready to publish ads about marijuana and cannabis. Collaborate with such publications and publish your ads in their newspapers and magazines. You may think that the number of readership of such publication may be lower, but it will still get your marijuana business a good number of views. Just think about it, even though the publication will print out one magazine, that single magazine will be read by at least five people. Just keep in mind, when you contact the publication, ask them for both their number of prints and actual pass-along stat so that you can accordingly compare and choose a publication. When you are choosing a publication, you can opt for industry specific magazine such as High! Canada. Such magazines will be brought by your exact target audience. However, there is a risk that your ad may get lost among the other businesses. However, it is still a chance worth taking as such magazines are not only bought by your target audience but are also put on display by cannabis dispensaries.
13) Consider Video and Radio
Finally, you can try advertising about your new marijuana products through video ads. Radio advertising is one platform where you will not be restricted since it is already sharing news after news related to the legalization of marijuana. But since there is already a lot of words being spoken about marijuana on the radio, you need to make your radio ad jingle compelling enough to catch the attention of the target audience. Create jingles that leave an impression on your target audience and do not forget to highlight your business name. Since the outcome of radio advertising cannot be measured definitely, you need to be careful about how much you spend on your ad campaign. It is advisable to initially opt for online podcast and internet radio for a cheaper campaign.
Coming to video advertising, television publishers are pretty commercialized when choosing the products they wish to advertise, so directly opting for TV ads is not a good idea. Instead, try to start with video advertising on online video based platforms like YouTube. On YouTube, you cannot directly advertise. However, you can start your own channel and keep posting informative videos to earn followers and eventually customers. Leafly’s YouTube channel is one such example of a successful marijuana business that is running with more than 90 thousand followers. While earning that kind of following can take time, you can start off by collaborating with such YouTube successes and get your marijuana products featured in one of their videos.
With these ideas, you can take a step ahead in promoting your marijuana and weed business as it may still take some time for advertising majors such as Google to open their gates for marijuana and cannabis products. But do not lose hope and continue with your efforts to promote your products.
Ali Salman is an online marketing strategist who have worked with Coca-Cola, Extreme Pita, Mucho Burrito, KIA, Honda and other Fortune 500 companies. Ali Salman now heads Rapid Boost Marketing - Canada's fastest growing search marketing agency. RBM clients include Fortune 500's and medium size businesses across North America. Ali as RBM CMO leads his team in building and managing quality, high-performing and cost-effective interactive campaigns and programs for our company's customers and partners. In his career, he has significantly improved campaign performance for large brands such as Government of Alberta, Liberal Party, Workopolis, Cathay Pacific, as well as medium to large retailers and high-tech B2B-enterprise niches.
Ali and his team develop online promotional concepts that spark viral growth through search and social media for RBM clients, devising strategies that use search engines and more to reach key demographic segments in the ways they're most likely to be receptive. Ali Salman also oversees corporate marketing initiatives for Rapid Boost Marketing, including strategic communications counsel, public and analyst relations and client education programming.