In the Weeds: What You Need to Know About Cannabis, Hemp and CBD Advertising

by | Jan 17, 2020 | Impressions

CBD Advertising Feature Image
Advertising cannabis-based products has always been a sensitive subject in regards to programmatic advertising. In all honesty, there has been little success marketing the cannabis industry as a whole — even using traditional mediums of billboards, newspapers, magazines, and the like — as it has skyrocketed over the last couple years. Here is a short guide to the “lay of the land” for cannabis, hemp and CBD advertising.

While both medical and recreational use of marijuana continues to become legalized on a state-by-state basis, it’s important to keep in mind that marijuana is still classified by the federal government as a schedule 1 drug along with LSD and heroin.

Until that changes, it will likely be next to impossible to advertise THC-based products programmatically. However, the CBD market and hemp-based products have been deemed legal on a federal level and would therefore seem to be an easier pill for platforms to swallow. Oddly enough, that doesn’t seem to be the case.



What platforms allow CBD and hemp advertising?


One of the first questions asked by advertisers we work with in this space is “What platforms allow advertising for cannabis-based products?”

The answer is that almost every platform has their own rules and regulations around advertising cannabis, CBD and hemp products. Some flat out won’t allow it, while others allow it but have restrictions that seem to be open to interpretation. And, as it often goes in the digital advertising space, these rules change almost constantly.

CBD Advertising Platforms
As of the writing of this article, the biggest players in the programmatic cannabis, CBD and hemp advertising game seem to be:

  • Mantis (the marijuana DSP)
  • Surfside
  • CannaVu (canna-compliant advertising inventory)
  • Facebook/Instagram
  • Twitter (which doesn’t allow any advertising for recreational marijuana)
  • Paid Search via Google Ads/Bing

Despite the rules and regulations, many ad tech companies are looking for ways to capitalize on this lucrative industry. More partnerships and integrations are beginning to emerge as the demand for advertising cannabis increases.

For instance, Centro just announced a partnership with CannaVu. Platforms like Mantis and CannaVu basically give cannabis companies access to one big private marketplace (PMP) deal. They have gone out and created relationships with select publications that are open to serving the industry as well as industry-specific pubs like The High Times.

Like anything else, however, some are better than others. Mantis, for example, may have great inventory but they require pre-payment before clients can work with them. This could just be to reduce liability on behalf of their company, but these sort of payment terms often raise red flags for advertisers. It can imply the company doesn’t have the capital to cover the cost of media they’re selling, which could be a sign of instability or lack of funding.

As always, we recommend partnering with vendors that practice full transparency. Read our guide on how to ensure transparency in media partnerships to get started.

Most importantly, do your homework and ask the right questions before throwing a bunch of money at a campaign. Afterall, advertising cannabis and hemp programmatically is very much a frontier where everyone is still trying to get the lay of the land.



What’s allowed and what isn’t?


The logical next question is usually “What is allowed and what isn’t?” To be honest, the waters are still pretty muddy in that realm.

It is important to remember that outside of the individual platforms having restrictions, there are also regulatory bodies monitoring cannabis-specific advertising on a state and local level to ensure rules are followed.

CBD Advertising Allowed vs Not Allowed

Elizabeth Michael, principal of Bud, a cannabis marketing agency in Little Rock, AR, describes advertising CBD, hemp, and medical/recreational marijuana in the cannabis industry as a moving target. State and local regulators are constantly changing the rules around what is allowed and what isn’t. 

Michael explained that the only real way to ensure you are complying is to speak to the regulators in each state. She even suggested going as far as getting approval on each individual marketing plan by the regulators in the state(s) you plan to advertise.

Additionally, Michael mentioned that in states (like Colorado) that are heavily regulated prevent dispensaries and cultivators from using out-of-home options (like billboards) to communicate medicinal benefits to patients. Agencies like Bud are getting creative by placing their name in front of tourists traveling by car through adopt-a-highway programs.

So, get creative and think outside the box (isn’t that what marketers do best?) but remember that one thing remains important above all else: you have to follow the rules.


Follow the rules! 

We know from experience that if you follow said rules you can, in fact, run successful campaigns. 

For federally legal cannabis-based products, like hemp and CBD, the language in the ad and on the landing page usually determines whether or not ads end up getting approved. 

In the early days of advertising in this industry, there were arguments around topical versus edible products (once again, leaving those restrictions open to interpretation), but both are now widely acceptable as long as you color within the lines. 

It is important to remember that if you want to be successful advertising in this industry, you must FOLLOW THE RULES each individual platform and state has put in place! Trying to skirt around the rules, or trick an algorithm, will almost always come back to bite you in the @$$. 

CBD Advertising Rules
A great example would be a company getting a campaign up and approved with ads driving to a unique landing page and URL that is compliant with a platform’s rules, then trying to trick the system by having that URL redirect to their website after the campaign has been approved. This is called “cloaking” and is an excellent way to get yourself banned from advertising on any platform that is smart enough to catch it. 

Trust us — if you want to advertise your cannabis-based products online you’re better off playing it safe, being patient and following the rules. 

As Elizabeth from Bud suggested, cooperate with the individual regulatory bodies in each state as laws continue to change. She says “It’s not a matter of IF, it’s a matter of WHEN it’s legalized.”

At the end of the day, these regulations will likely loosen as the products become more common and, most importantly, accepted and legalized on a federal level. 


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