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Cannabis Cognition

Cannabis Cognition
Mara Heathcote

Promoting Beyond Prohibitions

In late 2017, Hotspex Media began partnering with Cannabis advertisers, which also meant partnering with all of the legal regulations and prohibitions associated with the promotion of cannabis, cannabis accessories and services under the Cannabis Act. Basically, these regulations mean that although marijuana is now legal in Canada, cannabis-related brands should be careful as to how they promote their products or services.

In an interview for Business of Cannabis, our very own President and Co-founder, Josh Rosen spoke with Jay Rosenthal regarding the current climate of the cannabis industry along with how cannabis brands and retailers can leverage full-funnel objectives, strategies, and channels to organically drive conversions through knowledge sharing, market consistency, and simply being present.

Challenges with Ad Policies

Despite the fact that Facebook’s updated policy allows verified marijuana-related accounts to show up in in-platform searches for terms including "cannabis" and "marijuana,” it may not make a difference when it comes to encouraging conversions within the context of paid campaigns.

Additionally, Google will not allow any search ads that contain cannabis-related text or imagery. If Google discovers any breach of policy, it may result in Google not only pulling your ads, but they may even shut down your ad accounts with the additional risk of a permanent ban.

So, unless cannabis brands and cannabis retail brands can create ads that have nothing to do with their products and can entirely hide the fact that they’re a cannabis company, how can industry officials compliantly talk about themselves and market themselves in a digital environment with so many restrictions?

Thinking Ahead to Retail

In the beginning, the key differentiation between many cannabis retailers didn’t sit within the product or online presence, instead, many retailers placed focus on the in-store experience. Unfortunately, with the current state of how the world is functioning, retailers are forced to shift their focus to more of a digital strategy. With the introduction of online payment methods, mail-in delivery, and curb-side pickup, retailers may need to reconsider their existing methods of attracting and maintaining their clientele.

Cannabis companies can no longer rely on foot traffic to service the captive audience that once was. However, with the shift in focus, opportunities surrounding driving online sales, reaching new customers outside the expected geographic catchment area, and even opportunities to expand a brand’s customer base have all made themselves presentable. If a company is in a position to service a wider area via door to door delivery, they can now focus on a larger audience thus bringing more consumers in. Needless to say, the most prominent opportunity that exists for both bigger brands as well as smaller retailers, is to take advantage of the captive audiences that are currently at home, sitting in front of their devices.

The best way for brands to tap into these audiences is to fully understand what their audience looks like. It’s important to utilize current customer data to understand the type of people that interact with your brand or purchase your products. This information can be used to create look-alike audiences to find new prospects who share the same attributes as existing customers. It’s also essential for brands to identify what their end goal is; If the focus is specifically on the acquisition of new customers, your friendly neighbourhood Programmatic Media Agency can help determine the best channels and strategies to directly address your business and marketing objectives.

Making the most of Marketing

Taking a step back and considering the benefits of marketing and media as a whole can be vital for a brand. Hotspex Media adheres to a 60/40 ratio, meaning that we look for a balance between 60% long term brand building and 40% lower-funnel sales activation and hard sales-type metrics. Through long term brand building, brands will attain a higher level of awareness to assist buyers through the customer journey until they eventually convert. Due to the fact that the advertising of cannabis isn’t widely accepted, it poses a challenge for both brands and advertisers alike.

While the abundance of regulations may hinder marketing creativity, there are still ways that cannabis brands and retailers can safely advertise while abiding by all existing statutes. For example; promoting cannabis-related products in any way to minors is against the law, which can be tricky to steer clear of given today’s high online traffic. In order to maintain a safe online presence, retailers have begun to implement age verification systems before entering social media profiles and websites making it possible for brands to begin to build their online presence.

Additionally, despite restrictions, search ads aren’t impossible. It's imperative for advertisers to be aware of terms that are likely to trigger potential penalties to ensure compliance with Google’s “no drugs” policy. We recommend avoiding keywords such as cannabis, 420, marijuana, canna, THC, CBC, buds, hash, and even ganja. Try replacing your keywords with creative alternatives such as: alternative medicine, alternative therapies, green, flowers, and Bill C-45.

Respect the Act

From pre-to-post-legalization, comments from all perspectives have been taken into consideration in efforts to preserve public health and safety, to protect youth from inducements to use cannabis, and to create awareness of the health risks associated with cannabis use. With respect to the Cannabis Act’s prohibitions around promotion, Hotspex is able to continue to support brands with digital ads, help them stand out, and differentiate themselves by analyzing and determining the best channel strategies to help shape brand perception at a macro level. 

It’s important for advertisers to familiarize themselves with all regulations and to remain cautious when marketing cannabis products or services. If you want more information about the restrictions on cannabis marketing in Canada, consult sections 16 to 24 of The Cannabis Act or have a look at the government’s “Fact sheet”.

For additional questions, we suggest checking in with your legal team on the best marketing methods to ensure your company is operating within the law before executing any campaigns. For additional help, our team of experts are always here to assist with navigating the new laws of cannabis marketing while making your programmatic advertising work as hard as you do.

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