7 Things to Know About Cannabis Marketing

Legal cannabis sales skyrocketed 46% last year, and the industry’s marketing sector is growing alongside it. But marketing a substance that is only recreationally legal in 14 states and medicinally permitted in 36 requires a more targeted approach than ads for soft drinks or toilet paper.

Below are seven things to know about cannabis marketing.

Fragmented regulation requires localized campaigns 

Brands can’t just assume that because medical marijuana is legalized in their state, it’s permitted regionally or even city by city. For example, in Maine, cannabis advertisers cannot run location-based targeting unless the ads run in-app and are served to adults ages 21 and older. In Massachusetts, where cannabis is legal for both medical and recreational use, ads can only promote use for a medical condition. In California, however, ads can run on the mobile web as well as in-app and can promote recreational or medical use. It’s truly a “who’s on first, what’s on second” situation.

As a result, typically on the West Coast in states such as California or Washington where cannabis has been recreationally legal for several years, digital campaigns are trafficked and launched without a hitch. Generally, challenges arise in the newly approved recreational states where the guidelines for cannabis advertisers are constantly in-flux, creating more red tape for multi-state operators. For example, one of MNI’s largest cannabis clients intended to launch a major campaign in Michigan at the beginning of March, but the campaign has been placed on hold due to the need for additional state approvals that were not previously in place when the campaign was initially booked. 

Navigating publisher rules can be difficult, too

The limited number of media outlets that allow cannabis advertising presents marketers with challenges as well. Broadcast is greatly restricted since cannabis is not yet federally legal. Many major websites are rejecting cannabis ads for this same reason. Out-of-home (OOH) advertising has been restricted in California to exclude any interstates. The same restrictions apply to magazines as well. Most of the major publishers including the nation’s top magazine publisher, Meredith Corporation, will not accept cannabis-related ads until the product is deemed federally legal. 

Complicated rules are one case for agency partners

Keeping abreast of all the moving pieces with marijuana regulation and publisher preferences is a full-time job, and that’s why more and more brands are seeing the benefit of tapping into experts on everything from brand positioning to programmatic exchanges. In the cannabis business, it’s important to have trusted partners committed to knowing and keeping clients informed on what’s permitted where, day-by-day and week-by-week. No one person can do it alone.

Education plays a big role in cannabis marketing

Education is paramount when it comes to cannabis advertising. It’s important to remember that this is a new arena for many, and older generations carry perceptions from when they may have used the product differently at a younger age. Brands that have easy to use websites are more likely to form relationships with consumers. Consumers commonly look for items such as ingredients, source materials, and recommended usage.

In addition to educating potential customers about the product itself, we’re finding that several brands are focusing their media efforts on education surrounding the overall benefits that cannabis/CBD products provide in everyday life.

Cannabis advertisers have digital targeting options

In terms of tactics employed for digital, there are a multitude of options for brands looking to reach either the medicinal or recreational consumer. These options range from display, pre-roll, streaming audio, digital-out-of-home and high-impact rich media, among others. While these types of tactics can be employed for either recreational or medicinal use, we’re finding that the medical advertisers are focusing more on condition-based audience targeting segments, such as those with glaucoma or anxiety, which have been the two most popular health-related segments to date.

There are programmatic exchanges for cannabis ads

Programmatic simplifies the process from end to end for cannabis brands. It solves the largest problem cannabis marketers face: which publishers will accept cannabis ads. MNI has built a cannabis ad exchange of over 15,000 pre-approved sites that can be used to effectively serve both cannabis and CBD ads.

Cannabis advertising is not just plug and play

To stand apart, marketers need partners and exchanges, in addition to more than a small sprinkle of the human touch. This is how brands stay informed and at the top of their game.

Drew Pedersen is Associate Director, West, at MNI Targeted Media.

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