Most Advertising Platforms Will NOT Accept Cannabis Ads
If you own a medical dispensary or work in the cannabis industry, you might already know this by now, but hear this: The big ad platforms are not your friend.
I know, I know, this is totally counterintuitive to our typical multi-channel marketing approach, but hear me out.
The United States is a big place and our country operates at the federal and state level. So, even though states like Arizona, California, Colorado, Washington and 24-plus other states have made the drug legal in some form, it doesn’t mean the big advertising platforms are happy to host paid ads.
In fact, with the changing political landscape, four of the major ad sellers – Google, Twitter, Facebook and Instagram – have all decided NOT to allow marijuana brands to run paid ads on their platforms, at least at this time.
Facebook and Instagram Shut Down Cannabis Accounts
But, it’s not just paid ads the big tech giants have cracked down on. Both Facebook and Instagram are infamous for taking down cannabis-related accounts.
“We tried to log into Instagram, and a message said we violated their policy, but they won’t say what that violation is,” said Rick Scarpello, CEO of Incredibles, a Denver-based edible company. “I’ve written them every day, saying I’m not doing anything illegal and please reinstate my account.”
“Instagram does not allow people or organizations to use the platform to advertise or sell marijuana, regardless of the seller’s state or country. This is primarily because most federal laws, including those of the United States, treat marijuana as either an illegal substance or highly regulated good. Our policy prohibits any marijuana seller, including dispensaries, from promoting their business by providing contact information like phone numbers, street addresses, or by using the ‘contact us’ tab in Instagram Business Accounts. We do however allow marijuana advocacy content as long as it is not promoting the sale of the drug. Dispensaries can promote the use and federal legalization of marijuana, provided that they do not also promote its sale or provide contact information to their store.”
Read this line again:Our policy prohibits any marijuana seller, including dispensaries, from promoting their business by providing contact information like phone numbers, street addresses, or by using the “contact us” tab in Instagram Business Accounts.
“It’s been frustrating for us not being able to advertise on Facebook and Google because of our involvement in the cannabis industry,” said Jeffrey Zucker, co-founder and president of Green Lion Partners, a business strategy firm focused on early-stage development in the regulated cannabis industry. He added that he has had to deal with influencers who have spent a lot of time building up their followings suddenly seeing their accounts deleted without any prior messaging or warning, and often with no recourse.
So, what can you do?
10 Cannabis Advertising and Marketing Strategies
1. Play by the Rules
You can still create branded social accounts. However, if you are going to use Facebook and Instagram, then you MUST play by the rules:
Add a disclaimer: “You must be 21 or over to follow this account.”
Don’t EVER post a product for sale.
Don’t use a “Contact Us” direct contact button on Instagram.
Avoid claiming any direct medical benefits.
To advocate for legalization and use, give strain and product reviews.
Don’t offer a physical address or phone number to buy any products.
To promote your store, direct people to your website for location information.
And, don’t think this is everything. These popular social platforms tend to update their terms of service quite frequently. As a cannabis business owner, it’s imperative you understand and keep up with the laws and changing restrictions.
2. Use Engagement and Outreach
If you’re going to play nice and use social media for your cannabis brand, you really need to get creative with your strategies. Even with ads, clients can have a hard time standing out online and getting new followers.
If you expect to grow your organic reach, you must identify, target and engage with your prospects. Try this on:
Bonus engagement tip: Your biggest fans may already be engaging with your brand regularly. Don’t ignore those users. Instead, focus on building a relationship with them first. When relationships are nurtured correctly, fans can turn into powerful brand advocates who actually create engagement and viral opportunities for your business.
3. Brand Your Business
As this industry grows, the marketplace has become saturated with new products and brands. With so much to choose from, branding is key to ensure your marijuana business gets found. Try:
No matter which marketing channels you choose to leverage for your business, you need a memorable brand identity with a solid personality in order to gain customer engagement and brand loyalty.
Why does loyalty matter? If people like your brand, they might come back to buy again. If they love your brand, they’ll pick you over your competition every time. And, if they just can’t get enough of your brand? Well, they’ll tell all of their friends too.
4. Buy Media on Relevant Sites
Sure, Instagram and Facebook might not allow you to buy ads, but there are some digital advertising networks that do allow cannabis media buys, such as banner ads and other dynamic display ads.
However, buyer beware: As with any form of paid cannabis advertising, having rented ads on these sites isn’t cheap. Most will cost you at least $500 to $1,000 per month. Want to play with the big boys? An ad on the HighTimes.com online magazine starts at about $5,000 per location.
5. SEO Your Website
As an SEO agency, we might be a little biased. But, the data doesn’t lie. Websites with the right search engine optimization are getting the most traffic and best conversions. With the ongoing social media roadblocks and paid ad restrictions, organic website marketing is even more crucial to gaining visibility for your marijuana brand online.
Effective SEO tactics today include:
Identification of your ideal buyers
Keyword research and selection
Optimized metadata and image alt tags
High quality, unique and keyword rich content
AMP and mobile responsive pages
Rich schema markups
Local business citations
Mixed media for user engagement
Outreach and link building
The right SEO strategy can drive huge amounts of qualified search traffic to your website. Check out this organic case study on one of our local medical marijuana dispensaries. Now, after just a few more months into their campaign with us, they are getting HUGE amounts of organic traffic to the site.
In the last 30 days, they have had more than 8,000 visitors, 6,700 of which are organic. This is what expert SEO can get you.
6. Tap into Local
From Google My Business to Yelp, if you are a geo-targeted business, you MUST have a local presence. Did you know that your Google My Business page can rank for hundreds of keyword phrases? Just like organic SEO helps drive relevant traffic to your website, local SEO helps drive geo-targeted traffic to your Google My Business page.
Think about this: Most users are searching for cannabis-related products and dispensaries “nearby.” Google understands search behavior and therefore assumes specific keyword phrases are intended to produce a local result. Because of this, many terms will return the Google My Business listings before any organic website listings, even if they don’t include a geo-target or the words “near me.”
For example, I searched “medical dispensary,” a generic keyword phrase, and Google assumed I wanted local help:
Having a Google My Business for your cannabis shop, medical dispensary or marijuana product line is a no-brainer. If you don’t have one, go make one now: Google My Business
“In cannabis, it's an education-first mindset, not product first.” – Matt Rizzetta, CEO of public relations agency N6A
For decades now, cannabis has been illegal, forcing a lot of misinformation and stigma around the plant, including its uses and benefits. Many cannabis businesses are left with the task of raising awareness and spreading education around the facts.
Quality content can help a brand reach prospects and partners. If doctors are going to prescribe marijuana, they must understand it. By educating doctors and other health care providers on the benefits of the plant, dispensaries can earn trust, respect and new partnership opportunities.
You can develop and host high-quality content on:
Your own website
The company blog
Your public social media platforms
Your local listings
You can also write and share a company newsletter, offering users a gateway to other relevant content on your website and other branded platforms.
8. Leverage Email Campaigns
Another great way to share and spread quality information is through email marketing. In addition to a monthly newsletter about your brand, why not tap into targeted email marketing campaigns?
The Direct Marketing Association says for every $1 spent on email marketing, the average return on investment is $40.56. Not a bad ROI, huh? However, there’s a lot more to an effective campaign; sending out emails is only part of the strategy.
For effective email marketing, try this:
Develop specific landing pages to match your email offers.
Create multiple opportunities for new users to subscribe to your lists.
Organize your existing contacts into related groups.
Send each group offers and content relevant to their specific interests.
Use catchy headlines to increase open rates.
Test various send times and dates, and use analytics to optimize your delivery strategy.
Use your social media platforms to build a bigger audience.
Include personalized visual content, such as videos and GIFs.
Showcase client testimonials, case studies and other social proof.
Hire a designer to create a custom template and awesome graphics to wow the audience.
Always include a desired call to action. And, track everything!
Bonus Tip: Don’t oversell. Remember, when a user subscribes to a list, it’s because they believe they will receive something of value from it. Oftentimes, prospects are not ready to “buy now.” Instead, personalize your emails and become a trusted friend, someone your readers rely on for information they need. Provide value and the sales will come.
9. Try Text Messaging
Did you know that you can send short messages right to your employees, partners and customers using a text-messaging service? What better way to share daily quotes, specials, event updates and other important information with your clients? With text messaging, you can get your message directly to your audience in a cost-effective way.
With group texting services, you can:
Run Drip Campaigns:
Updates on new products and sales
Detailed information about the service you offer
Reminders about events
Send Business Promotions:
New offers and deals
Invitations to exclusive sale events
Announcements about sales
You can also segment your subscriber lists and send different messages to various groups based on their specific interests and buying patterns.
10. Traditional Marketing
This isn’t as much a tip as it is an option. Traditional marketing is expensive, but for cannabis?
“You have a handful of websites; you have print ads, which are abnormally popular, [and] dispensaries spend more on a cost-per-impression basis than a Super Bowl commercial to get into a local print publication,” Joel Milton, CEO of Baker Technologies, told Adweek.
Trying radio or TV? Good luck getting a prime spot:
“Most TV companies will only let you advertise if you can prove that the TV station or radio station has less than 30% of listeners that are under 21 years of age,” says Celeste Miranda, co-founder of The Cannabis Story Lab.
However, billboards might still work:
“We’re seeing a lot of marketers turn to out-of-home in place of digital opportunities,” says Kyle Del Muro, a consultant with several cannabis clients. “In Vegas, billboards are becoming a big thing,”
But, similar to online magazine ads, billboards are not cheap. To run a billboard ad in most small to mid-sized cities in the US is roughly $1,500 to $4,000 per month. Larger markets can reach $14,000 per month!
Final Tip to Overcome Cannabis Marketing Challenges
Cannabis marketing and advertising isn’t easy. As the political and legal landscape continues to evolve, expect even more changes in the way cannabis businesses do marketing.
Get ahead of the curve, implement effective, long-term marketing strategies now, such as cannabis SEO, and reap the rewards for years to come.
Owner and CEO at Eminent SEO in Mesa, Arizona. I started doing SEO and marketing in 2005. I'm a busy mom of four of my own and two step kids (and a grandbaby!). I owe my sanity to my partner in work and life, Chris Weatherall. I love sharing and engaging in business and marketing conversations, and I'm heavy into social media and blogging on these topics. I focus on quality, ethics, strategy, data and getting results. I work with a variety of brands and businesses with a special focus on addiction treatment marketing. I do this work because I care about making a difference.