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Weed and Advertising: Overview of the Paid Media Options for the Cannabis Industry

Weed and Advertising: Overview of the Paid Media Options for the Cannabis Industry

Paid media is a fast and effective way to grow brand awareness and increase traffic and conversions online. For most businesses, anyway. However, paid media is a fickle beast in the cannabis industry. Try to advertise on the wrong channel and you’ll quickly get banned—possibly for life.

To make matters worse, the advertising guidelines vary from state to state. Some guidelines are standard across the country, though, like:

  1. don’t commit false advertising;
  2. definitely don’t make health, therapeutic, or medical claims;
  3. don’t advertise to kids; and
  4. don’t cross state lines. National advertising is a big no-no.

Advertising in the cannabis industry can be tricky, but it isn’t impossible. It pays to know the paid media options you can actually use online and which are best to use to see results in the cannabis sector. And it turns out, your options differ depending on which sector of the industry you work in.

Paid Media Options for Cannabis Companies

Traditional Media

Examples: Facebook, Instagram, Google Search , or mainstream media

Direct Media

Buying directly from sites like Leafy, High Times and the NW Leaf

Sponsored Content

Advertising on content emails like Leafwire

Display Ad Networks

These are visual ads that are on a network with a large inventory of space available

Paid Media Options for B2B Cannabis Companies

In B2B, your business sells to other businesses. If you’re in this sector and you don’t touch cannabis flower, the rules are slightly more relaxed for you (phew). You might sell smart safes for dispensaries , grow lights, or POS systems, for example.

Your Options in Paid Media

If you work in B2B, here’s what you need to know about paid media:

  • LinkedIn won’t help you find people easily (cannabis is not an identified industry for targeting)
  • There’s high turnover in the cannabis industry
  • Direct buys on sites like Leafly , High Times , and NW Leaf are great because they are the industry publications that people read
  • Consider sponsored content or emails from places like Leafwire that offer emails to their databases that you can sponsor
  • You’re allowed to run ads on Google Search, Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter so long as you don’t mention cannabis (weed, pot, etc.) or show flower or seeds

Paid Media Options for B2C Cannabis Companies

If you’re in B2C, you sell directly to the consumer. This can mean that you sell CBD worldwide or cannabis, whether to a legal state or in legal countries like Canada.

Here’s what you need to know about B2C paid media in your sector (Hint: your options suck):

Traditional Paid Media

NO WAY, DON’T BOTHER TRYING.

  • You can’t advertise on social media networks (Facebook, Insta, Twitter, LinkedIn)
  • You can’t advertise on Google search, products, display network
  • You can’t advertise on most mainstream media outlets

But why? Put simply, because of the age restrictions and mixed legality, there is too much at risk for these companies to offer advertising to the cannabis industry.

Paid Media Friendlies

Direct buys: Since you can’t advertise on traditional paid media, choose industry-focused publications (Weedmaps, Leafly, Eaze, High Times) instead. In paid media we call this a “direct buy” because it’s purchased from the media outlet, not an aggregator; the media outlet sets the rules and they all have different rules and requirements for advertising.

These are great for target audiences who are already knowledgeable of cannabis. So it’s important to know your audience (e.g., this is not the best outlet for those who are new cannabis users).

Ad networks: When media sites that sell advertising have leftover inventory that they’re having trouble selling themselves, they’ll sell the ad spots to an ad network . This ad network will systematically post ads according to criteria.

There are pros and cons to using ad networks, and it’s important to note that not all networks are created equal in terms of quality. For example, some networks actually have geotargeting capabilities that can serve a dispensary’s ads to people within a certain radius. This is perfect for walk-by and nearby traffic, but not all networks offer this ability, so choose wisely.

On the plus side, using an ad network for cannabis advertising is cheaper than buying directly from the media site. It’ll also extend your brand’s reach across thousands of sites. On the downside, while you have some control over which sites you’re on (for example, with cannabis they must be 21+), you are buying leftover space after the best ad space and times have already been served up. For this reason, you can be left with ads that don’t quite reach your target audience.

Use ad networks for branding. It’s a good option if you’re trying to get the word out or if you’re trying to build low-risk calls to action like email capture. For lead generation, however, you’re likely to see a lower click-through rate, so you may want to choose a different paid media option.

Paid Media Options for B2C Companies Selling CBD

If you sell CBD products with absolutely no THC products, you’re part of a distinct sector within the B2C cannabis industry. The good news is your options are a bit better here (Hooray!).

Traditional Paid Media

You can advertise on social media sites, Google, and most mainstream media, but you’ll need to get creative about the way you’re positioning your ads. You cannot directly say that you’re selling CBD or you’ll be flagged, and once you’re on a channel’s shit list, it’s difficult to be removed.

To play by the rules, focus on health, wellness, and education. Landing pages can have references to CBD, but adding a direct purchase link is not recommended.

These channels include:

  • Social media networks (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn)
  • Google search, products, display network
  • Many mainstream media outlets (Note: ads that have a manual review process or where you speak directly with an ad rep will have their own set of advertising guidelines that you must adhere to.)

Paid Media Friendlies

You’ll have no problem advertising on industry-focused publications like Weedmaps, Eaze, Leafly, and High Times. You can also advertise using ad networks.

Marketing and advertising your dispensary or cannabis brand is critical to your success in such a competitive industry. However, strict regulations can make it more difficult for you to do so. It pays to understand which paid media options are available to you, and which you should avoid. Mary Jane Marketer makes it easy to navigate advertising in the cannabis industry and prevent potentially devastating mistakes that get you blacklisted. Book a consultation today.

Google Ads for Cannabis: Everything You Need to Know

Yes, it is true, advertising cannabis goes against Google’s policies. Yet, companies have and continue to get around it. But how is that possible?

Here at Findable Digital Marketing, we work with search engines day in and day out, and we are going to share our expertise on how there is a loophole in Google’s policy that can make Google ads for cannabis possible.

To realize the loophole, we first need to understand Google’s advertising policy in relation to cannabis, look at how people have managed to get around it, realize the different risks that are involved and finally the different alternatives available to us.

Before we get into it, we want to be clear that we are in no way encouraging you to violate Google’s advertising terms and conditions. This blog post is simply for educational purposes. Use this information and make a decision at your own discretion.

So let’s start by looking at Google’s advertising policy for cannabis, CBD and hemp.

Jump Ahead

Can cannabis companies advertise on Google?

No, Google doesn’t permit ads that promote the use, sale or even provide informational content about cannabis. It doesn’t matter if it’s medicinal or recreational cannabis, Google doesn’t make a distinction and classifies it as a recreational drug in their Advertising Policy.

Below is a complete list of prohibitions that are listed in Google’s policy under “Dangerous products or services”:

These prohibitions include cannabis dispensaries, delivery, accessories like pipes or rolling paper or the actual product like dried flowers, concentrates or edibles.

Running ads for any of these products or services is forbidden. However, If you type in “marijuana near me” in the Google search bar, you are likely to notice relevant ads on the search engine results page (SERP).

If you want to learn how brands manage to run Google Ads for cannabis products despite Google’s policies, you first have to understand how these ads get approved.

What does Google evaluate to approve and display an ad?

To be able to get an ad approved by Google, start by putting the following 3 things together:

  1. The ad copy
  2. A landing page: the website or page you are aiming to bring more traffic to.
  3. A list of keywords to bid on *

Once these 3 things are ready, you can submit the ad or campaign to get approved by Google. During the approval process, Google will start looking for signals that suggest you are selling cannabis – or anything else that is part of the prohibited list in its policies.

The following terms are signals that can be considered as “bad words” or “trigger words” as per Google Ads policies:

  • Marijuana
  • Weed
  • Cannabis
  • Hash
  • Ganja
  • Vapes
  • Pipes
  • Rolling paper
  • Dispensary

Using any of these words in your ad copy, website copy or website domain could trigger Google Ads and your ad campaign won’t be approved.

How do I get my cannabis ads approved by Google?

There are 3 things you need to submit a Google ad:

  1. Ad copy.
  2. A landing page.
  3. A list of bidding keywords.

Here’s the loophole to getting cannabis ads approved: Google only scans your ad copy and website for the previously mentioned “trigger” words but it does not do the same for your bidding cannabis keywords.

In other words, this means that you can bid for the word “marijuana” but you cannot use it in your ad copy or your website.

Let’s take a look at a real-life example.

We started by searching “marijuana pickering” and studied the ads and websites that came up. Take notice that these ads are bidding for the keyword “marijuana” but the keyword is not actually used in the ad copy nor the page URL.

Next, we clicked one of the ads and studied the landing page. Again, pay close attention to the copy or use the “Find” tool in Google Chrome and you’ll find that the keyword “marijuana” is never used.

Carefully planning and editing their ad campaign is how cannabis companies get their Google Ads approved.

To be clear, we are not looking to shame any brands or anyone out there. In fact, we think companies that uncovered this loophole are quite clever. Besides this information is available on the Internet for everyone to see.

Can you advertise CBD and medical cannabis on Google ads?

Google’s advertising policies make a clear distinction between recreational substances and pharmaceutical drugs – but the policies do not differentiate between recreational and medicinal cannabis.

On paper, Google considers cannabis as a recreational drug. It doesn’t matter how or why people use it, the policy does not allow you to advertise it.

Google’s list of unapproved pharmaceuticals includes CBD, prohibiting it from being advertised. But, Google’s advertising policies for pharmaceutical drugs are less strict than those for recreational drugs.

The reason we say “on paper” is that behind closed doors Google is testing and tweaking its policies.

Since 2019, Google has been running closed test programs for CBD companies. This means they’ve approached specific CBD companies and have given them permission to run ads.

But, what happens if Google detects your attempt to advertise cannabis on its platform?

What happens if you violate Google’s policy with a cannabis ad?

Google will slap you on the wrist and will move on to disapprove of your ad. If despite the disapproval, you persist in pushing your cannabis ad, Google can decide to suspend your account altogether.

If Google decides to suspend your account, you have the option to submit an appeal. Google only reinstates accounts if it looks like an honest mistake was made. But, if you make a mistake and try to violate their policy again, it will definitely not be seen as an honest mistake.

If you do not want to take on the risk of advertising cannabis on Google ads, what are your possible alternatives?

What are the alternatives to advertising cannabis on Google ads?

Let’s consider your alternative options to advertising cannabis on Google ads. One option is running display or programmatic advertising on a private or closed network. That is, you buy banner ad space directly from the website instead of going through Google Ad Sense.

Your other option is using organic means like content marketing, SEO and public relations.

What’s great about organic website marketing is that it “prepares” you for the day Big Tech platforms, like Google and Facebook, finally decide to change their advertising policy to allow cannabis ads.

It is important to keep in mind that ads work best when they have substantial data about your target customers such as:

  • Who are they?
  • When are they online?
  • What keywords do they use?
  • What’s their search history?
  • What other content do they like?

Depending on the data that you provide, the algorithm changes the way it shows the ads.

The more data they have, the better your ads perform and the lower your cost-per-click (CPC). In the marketing world, this is known as maturing your Facebook pixel or increasing your Google Ads quality score.

But how do you provide big platforms, like Google and Facebook, data to improve the performance of your ads and to lower your CPC?

You can provide your website traffic data through Google analytics or by signing up with Facebook pixel. By granting permission to track your website, you are providing these platforms with updated data about your website traffic.

You can create content on your website and include SEO practices, such as targeting relevant keywords, to get more organic traffic on your website and invest in public relations campaigns or partnerships.

The more data you have now, the better prepared your ads will be when Google’s and Facebook’s advertising policies do change.

Can cannabis companies do SEO and Google Ads simultaneously?

SEO and Google Ads typically work together quite well and go hand-in-hand to make a campaign more impactful – but not in the cannabis industry. In fact, the two channels contradict one another.

Say you are competing for the keyword, “weed grinder”.

If you want to rank for this keyword organically using best SEO practices, you must use the keyword in the page URL, metadata, and in the copy of the entire page. However, if you want to bid for this keyword in a Google Ads campaign, you’d have to do the complete opposite to bypass the loophole in Google’s Advertising Policy. This is because “weed” (and perhaps even “grinder”) is a trigger word.

A work-around I’ve seen some companies take is create and run Google Ads on a unique landing page, one that lives on a separate domain. This separates your SEO from your Google Ads efforts.

An exception would be if you’d like to bid for a keyword that doesn’t contain a trigger word but is still relevant to the cannabis industry. For instance the keyword, “seed to sale software”.

You still wouldn’t be able to use trigger words like “cannabis” on the landing page or URL, however, it would be much easier to rank for this keyword organically with SEO and also bid for it in a Google Ads campaign.

This is a situation when yes, a cannabis business can do SEO and Google Ads simultaneously. Nevertheless, it requires careful planning.

The future of advertising cannabis: Will Google and Facebook change their advertising policies for cannabis?

A common question we get asked is “do you think Google and even Facebook will change their advertising policies for cannabis?”

We are optimistic that they will but it all depends on several external factors.

For one, we think it will first take the USA to federally legalize cannabis for Google and Facebook to then change their policies. Given the circumstances and traction in the 2020 USA election, we don’t think is that far off.

No matter where you want to run the ads, a majority of these big Tech platforms, like Google and Facebook, are American companies and are going to comply with local laws regardless of Canada’s Cannabis Act.

However, it also depends on Big Tech’s investors since much of the advertising money holds the majority of control over the on-goings and decisions of Big Tech’s next steps.

We are most curious to see if cannabis will be treated the same as alcohol, tobacco or pharmaceutical drugs. Google is much more flexible with alcohol and pharmaceutical but not with tobacco. But the real question here is, how will cannabis be different?

Need Help With Your Cannabis Digital Marketing?

Get cannabis brands more traffic and sales from Google is our specialty. In fact, it’s the only thing we do. We offer cannabis digital marketing services starting at $2,000.

Take a look at our case studies, and if you think we’d make a good fit, contact us today!

Daniela Furtado

When Daniela isn’t managing Findable Digital Marketing, you can find her learning a new language, salsa dancing, or cooking up a storm!

How Cannabis Brands Can Advertise On Social Media (without getting banned)

Cannabis Marketing has changed drastically over the last 10 years.

It has gone from an unregulated industry that operated outside of the law to being recognised as one of the fastest growing opportunity by investors all around the world.

To put it in to historical context, the next 15 years for the cannabis industry could play out in a similar fashion to how alcohol grow in post-prohibition America.

Many investors have clocked on to this fact and moved into the cannabis space early to secure big returns once the marketplace normalises across the world.

However, despite the mainstreaming of the industry, marketers still need to be extra cautious when advertising in the marijuana space, as the rules and regulations surrounding cannabis marketing differ from place to place.

This makes it difficult for traditional marketers who are unable to rely on methods they would normally use that would be effective in other industries.
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Nevertheless, as the cannabis brand has years of experience working in an underground way, many baring brands in the cannabis space have found ways to get around anti-cannabis policies regarding advertising on Facebook and Instagram.

This is to be expected because cannabis brands have always had to invent new and creative methods of guerilla advertising.

Advertising Cannabis Brands on Social Media

As the rules that govern cannabis advertising are basically unclear at this time, social media companies such as Facebook & Youtube have developed strict policies governing advertising in these industries, which many have called restrictive and unfair.

One Marijuana brand, Kiva Confections has had their social media accounts shut down more than 7 times. But that hasn’t stopped them from coming back each time and gathering more and more followers.

In this article, we discuss a few of the ways they’ve managed to evade social media bans and filters to grow there following and come back with bang, every time.

Get Influencers to Advertise For You

Every time the Kiva Confections account has been shut down, they launched a new account and spread the word through the use of popular cannabis influencers on Facebook and Instagram..

The theory behind this is that on social media, it’s fine for a friend to recommend a company to another friend – in fact, it’s entirely encouraged by the social media algorithms and action is very rarely, if not ever taken against individual influencers advertising cannabis products.

“Individuals can share with impunity, which means influencers are in the unique position to share products they are passionate about without fear of getting shut down as a business would and several influencer partnerships are in progress.” – Kiva Confections

Technically I believe that these videos where influencers mention Kiva, may be possible to be boosted by the individual influencer on behalf of the brand.

Alternatively, if a content producer such as a musician or comedian, was to be sponsored by Kiva, perhaps they could plug the brand at the beginning of their content which would then be eligible for FB ads.

Create and Promote Entertaining Branded Content

Additionally, another way that cannabis companies have managed to cleverly subvert the Facebook advertising system is through the production and distribution of branded media content.

Pages such as Herb who are a subsidiary of cannabis brand Caviar Gold) advertise themselves as a home for cannabis video, allow the advertisement of cannabis products and brands via the method of product placement in regular news stories and entertainment pieces.

The about video from media brand NowThisIsWeed showcases a small weed delivery company, under the guise of a news story or entertainment piece.

However, as the video has been shared over 112,000 times, we’re certain that this marketing play will have generated a huge amount of traffic for the small firm, especially considering the small amount of investment needed to hit such a large audience.

Use mainstream news to your brands advantage

Cannabis brands can also attach themselves to social causes, such as Gav Lawson, founder of UK hemp clothing company THTC, who appeared on Sky news to support cannabis legislation for medicinal purposes, and to spread awareness of the benefits of Hemp.

This interview with Sky News doesn’t directly advertise the brands products in any way – but it does make you aware of Gav and the THTC brand, which means that because it is a “news story” it will be therefore be allowed on the Facebook marketing platform

Now, as the discussion around cannabis continues, several media opportunities will present themselves to budding entrepreneurs who wish to have their say in the debate, and gain some free media time for there trouble, as cannabis becomes increasingly normalised across the world.

Final Thoughts

As the rules that govern advertising in the cannabis industry are still in a somewhat confusing and complicated state, it’s hard to advocate any 100% accurate guidelines for cannabis brands who wish to do market their company using Facebook advertising.

However, with high risk comes high rewards and if you wish to proceed aware of the potential drawbacks, it is advised to follow these rules of thumb:

Avoid directly advertising prices or promotional discounts.

  • Be careful with the language used in your posts,(Think to use words like “flowers” over “buds” or “collectable souvenirs”)
  • Don’t provide a direct way for users to order products but rely on SEO for them to search your brand name after an awareness campaign
  • Partner with a third-party media publisher like Vice News, Leafly or Herb to create branded content that is strictly considered “newsworthy” and not directly “promotional”
  • Work with influencers who like your products and are willing to share with their communities, think musicians, comedians or podcasts such as Joe Rogan (regularly advertises cannabis products such as CBD, edibles and strains)

Disclaimer: this article doesn’t in any way provide legal advice or recommend to break any laws of any countries.

However, if you are in a legal territory, I hope we’ve provided some useful tips on how to get your brand out there without having your account shut down and all of your work deleted.

Thanks for reading, and if you need some more tips on how to grow your cannabis business, we recently published an in depth guide to cannabis marketing for you to check out.