Twenty years ago when we started this company, cannabis advertising wasn’t even a consideration. But as four more states include marijuana legalization on their ballots this November, cannabis is becoming increasingly mainstream. By the end of 2018, it’s possible that 32 states will allow medical marijuana and 11 will allow recreational use. Cannabis generates an estimated $10 billion in annual sales, for now. More and more marijuana cultivators and dispensaries are opening; the cannabis industry is a boom!
Even though public support of marijuana has continued to grow, cannabis advertisers face strict regulations. Why? Because marijuana use is still illegal under federal law. This makes cannabis advertising guidelines a little harder to interpret.
This is also why Facebook and Google – the largest platforms for digital advertising – currently do not support ads for marijuana brands. They’re among other publishers and media companies who turn away business from cannabis advertising, even in states where some form of the drug is legal. While some media companies are steering clear of cannabis ads (for now), we want to protect these brand’s commercial freedom of speech.
Some states where marijuana is legal prohibit ads in certain formats. For example, Colorado currently doesn’t allow any outdoor media to have cannabis messaging. (Hey, Colorado, let’s change that, eh?) Washington state prohibits coupons. In California, billboards cannot be located on an interstate highway or state highway that crosses over to another contiguous state.
Some states require one set of fine print, while other states require different disclaimers. Many legislative codes are written with ambiguity. No wonder it’s a bit confusing for marijuana brands!
From what we know, here’s our best practices for cannabis advertising:
- Only advertise in states where cannabis is legal
- Be truthful and accurate in all marketing messages
- Simple messages are best; omit health claims if not fully substantiated
- Craft all messaging to audiences 21+
- Deliver messaging only in channels/locations where the majority of the audience is 21+ (most states require 70% – 75% of the audience be 21+)
- Avoid placements near daycare centers, schools, playgrounds, youth centers or other child-friendly areas
- Add all required fine print, as dictated by each state’s code
- Partner with media companies who are open to cannabis advertising
- Producers and retailers need to collaborate to ensure cohesive messaging
- Age gate your digital cannabis content
Some publishers do have data to support their ads are served to audience composition of 21+. These same publishers rely on the First Amendment every day. Yet, many still shy away from cannabis ads.
We’re a bit more progressive in our thinking. Of course, we want to be responsible in our approach, but we do believe in an advertiser’s constitutional rights. We’ve even pushed back with a letter from our attorney to the Bureau of Cannabis Control in California. In the letter, we have sought modifications to Title 16, section 5040(b) of their proposed legislative code.
We believe some of the regulations in place violate Article I of the California Constitution. This article upholds commercial speech for lawful goods and services. Plus, banning cannabis ads on some mediums – but not all – shows irrational restrictions that are pierced by exceptions. It’s not lawful to narrowly tailor such placements, when an advertiser can prove placement is geared to the right adult audience.
In short, we will continue to fight for the cannabis industry to have their free speech rights.
Until then, mobile billboards do provide an advertising solution for the cannabis industry.
Here’s why: Our customized routing and navigational technology allows us to avoid placing marijuana messaging near schools and other areas where cannabis advertising would not be appropriate.
We recommend this out-of-home media mix for your cannabis advertising (in most states where it’s legal):
- Mobile billboards – No other media format can guarantee coverage at the exact physical locations your audience lives, works or plays. With our proprietary true proximity targeting software, you can aim your message in front of adults 21+ who may likely consider marijuana use – either for medical or recreational purposes. Likewise, our customized routing and GPS tracking allow us to avoid locations where the audience doesn’t match the message.
- Mobile display advertising – We have experience delivering sensitive content to devices identified as being owned by people 21+ and only use opt-in delivery to reach them. Plus, with a geofarming strategy in place, we can also serve the ads to audiences who have visited certain dispensaries or events in the past. This, in turn, gives us added confidence that the audience is appropriate to receive the message.
- Field marketing – Armed with a list of ‘things to say’ and ‘things not to say’, our professional and well-trained brand ambassadors can interact with people at bars, music festivals or other events that are known to attract 21+. Age surveys and data captures can be integrated into the campaign to ensure that we’re speaking to the right audience. With one-to-one engagement, you can educate consumers with a personal touch. These efforts will continue to dispel any social stigma surrounding this industry.
We are investing money in various ways to help establish the right foundation to responsibly promote cannabis brands and companies under state guidelines. We’re eager to work with agencies and brands who are breaking down the barriers for cannabis advertising. If that’s you, let’s connect on how we can continue to make cannabis advertising more accepted and mainstream.
Please note this article is not a representation of legal advice. This is an opinion piece, only, and we’ve noted our sources below.