Justin Trudeau has stated that one of the main reasons he wanted to legalize cannabis was to eliminate black market marijuana.
He argues that by eliminating the black market, it will be easier to keep cannabis out of the hands of young people.
But anyone with any common sense understands that eliminating the black market is practically impossible.
And the rules that pertain to pot promotion in Canada certainly aren’t making it any easier.
Pot dealers don’t have advertising, brand names, logos or special packaging, and their products won’t be sitting on the shelves next to the Soviet storefront style products that the government wants.
But if the government really wants to compete with the black market, they need to give people some incentive to buy cannabis legally, and under the current rules, it’s definitely not going to come from advertising.
Nevertheless, until the government comes to its senses (don’t hold your breath) and realizes that a lot of the restrictions in the Cannabis Act are counter-intuitive, cannabis companies in Canada are just going to have to make do with the options they have.
Luckily for you, The Best Media has compiled a list of marijuana marketing tips for Canadian cannabis companies, so you can navigate the narrow limits of this legislation.
8 Marijuana Marketing Tips for Cannabis Companies in Canada
1. Know Your Limits
The limitations imposed on cannabis marketing in Canada are broad, complex, and they’re not cut and dried (no pun intended).
A lot of this stuff is open to interpretation and precedents will need to be set before we have any real clarity on what’s allowed and what isn’t.
And the government is being extremely tight-lipped, refusing to comment on specific situations and simply encouraging people to familiarize themselves with the legislation (in other words, hire a lawyer).
What we do know is that mass advertising has been banned, ruling out things like TV commercials or ads on billboards.
Digital advertising would likely fall under this category, as well, but plenty of companies seem to be doing it.
In any case, there are several things you should avoid when marketing cannabis products in Canada, such as:
- Using endorsements or testimonials to promote products
- Promoting products in a way that is meant to appeal to young people
- Communicating information about the distribution or price of products
- Depicting people, characters or animals, whether they’re real or fictional
- Promoting products or “brand elements” in a way that evokes positive or negative emotions about or uses imagery of a lifestyle that includes “glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.”
These are the basic prohibitions on promotion found in the legislation. I could go into more detail, but if I were to go over everything in there, you’d be here all day, so if you want more information about the restrictions on cannabis marketing in Canada, consult sections 16 to 24 of the Cannabis Act, or have a look at the government’s “Fact sheet”.
The legislation also outlines a few ambiguous exceptions to these promotional prohibitions.
Point of sale promotion is allowed, but you can only indicate price and/or availability.
There’s also an exception for displaying a “brand element” on things other than cannabis products, but it can’t be associated with young people, appealing to young people, or associated with a way of life including “glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.”
Other exceptions include providing factual information about the availability, price, or characteristics of cannabis products and services, or promoting these things based on brand characteristics, so long as the promotion is:
- Found in a place where young people can’t legally go
- Found in a “prescribed place” or “done in a prescribed manner”
- Included in communication addressed and sent to individuals who are 18 years of age or older and identified by name
- Communicated through telecommunications, if “reasonable steps” are taken to make sure that young people can’t access these promotions
2. When in Doubt, Consult a Lawyer
While The Best Media does employ a team of digital marketing experts, we are by no means legal experts.
So, before I go any further, I must include the obligatory disclaimer.
This article is in no way meant to be interpreted as legal advice, and if there’s anything you’re uncertain of when it comes to marketing your cannabis company, you should speak to a lawyer.
As with all legislation, the legal language in the Cannabis Act is vague, open to interpretation, and can’t really be fully understood until precedents have been set.
So speak to a legal expert if you need clarification on anything.
3. Circumvent the Stigma
Now that we’ve got the legal bullshit out of the way, let’s talk about how to deal with the stigma surrounding this substance.
When you’re naming your products, coming up with logo designs, advertising or otherwise, it might be tempting to use tired, old stereotypes and cliché word play, but it’s not going to do you any favours.
With cannabis use becoming more socially acceptable every day, the demographics that are using it (or at least admitting to using it) are changing.
An Ipsos survey found that even 26 per cent of parents are willing to admit that they currently use cannabis.
The survey polled 2000 Canadians from all over the country, and across a wide range of demographics, including various income levels, ages, amounts of education and types of employment.
My point is that the people who use pot today come from all walks of life, they want to be treated with respect, dignity and legitimacy, and they don’t want to be compared to moronic, hippie stoners who have to swallow their stash to hide it from the cops.
So, while some cannabis connoisseurs might still get a kick out of Cheech and Chong, you’re better off staying away from those archetypes.
4. Forget About Facebook
Facebook is notoriously unfriendly when it comes to cannabis.
Its advertising policies state that advertisements “must not constitute, facilitate or promote illegal products, services or activities”, “must not promote the sale or use of illegal or recreational drugs” and can’t contain images that show drugs, paraphernalia, or even imply recreational drug use.
So, unless you create ads that have nothing to do with your product and can hide the fact that you’re a cannabis company, you’re basically shit out of luck for buying ad space.
To some extent, you can get away with running ads if you can get them approved. It’s not impossible, but the ads will have to be totally ambiguous, with no visible connection to cannabis.
And even if you can get past the censors, you can still get flagged, and you’re risking getting banned from the platform entirely.
As for posting on the platform, Facebook’s community guidelines warn against anything having to do with illegal activity, and Mr. Zuckerberg’s even gone so far as to filter results that are related to the terms marijuana and cannabis, so it’s best to avoid even using these terms when posting.
5. Be Savvy with Social Media
At least for now, it seems like Facebook is going to continue to flip the bird to the cannabis community, but if you look at things from Zuckerberg’s perspective, it’s easy to understand why he’s doing this.
In the U.S., where all the social media and search giants operate, the federal government still lumps cannabis into the same category as heroin and ecstasy.
As a result, practically every social media platform and search engine has ad policies and/or community guidelines that forbid advertising or posting about cannabis.
Obviously, this is because they don’t want to be seen promoting illegal activity, and neither do those buying ad space on these platforms.
And they don’t care if cannabis is legal in Canada. No matter where users are located, the same rules apply.
So, as I said above, Facebook is going to be very difficult for cannabis companies, but there are other platforms that make it easier for cannabis companies to have a presence.
Although it does have ad policies against the promotion of drugs or paraphernalia, Twitter is known to be much more lenient towards those posting pot-related content.
Another option is LinkedIn, which has similar ad policies, but does allow people to post content related to cannabis and has a large community of cannabis companies on its platform.
To summarize, advertising on the major social media websites is going to be very difficult for cannabis companies but having a social media presence and posting content can be done if you’re careful about how you do it.
6. Consider Cannabis-centric Platforms
Believe it or not, there are advertising platforms that connect cannabis companies to pro-cannabis websites, and there are also pot-focused social media networks.
Here are some platforms that Canadian cannabis companies should consider:
- WeedLife is a social network devoted to cannabis enthusiasts that allows you to sign in with existing social media accounts on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn.
- Weedmaps is like the Yelp of cannabis, allowing consumers to browse cannabis products, connect with other users, find cannabis companies and leave reviews of these businesses.
- Leafly is the self-proclaimed “largest cannabis information resource” and it provides a platform for users to rate and review different cannabis strains and dispensaries.
- Mantis is an advertising platform with 500 publishing partners that caters to niche audiences with interests in things like yoga, music, wellness, and of course, cannabis.
- Adistry is another advertising platform that works with hundreds of advertising companies and caters to businesses in several unique industries, including cannabis companies.
- The GrowthOp is a cannabis news website run by Postmedia that provides a platform for cannabis companies to advertise.
- The Leaf is a website covering cannabis news run by the Winnipeg Free Press where cannabis companies can purchase ad space.
If you’re sick of dealing with advertising giants like Google and Facebook, the platforms listed above might be the perfect place to start promoting your cannabis company, so check them out.
7. Google Hates Ganja
If you’re a cannabis company thinking about promoting your products with Google Ads, you’re in for a fight.
According to Google’s advertising policies, the search engine does not allow advertising for substances that alter your state of consciousness for recreational purposes, specifically citing marijuana as an example, and it doesn’t allow ads for products or services that facilitate recreational drug use, or ads for instructional content on the production, purchase or use of recreational drugs.
It also doesn’t allow ads to be run on “pages that sell or promote recreational drugs and drug-related content”.
There are ways to get around the censorship and get ads approved, but again, they’re going to have to be vague, and can’t contain any cannabis-related text or imagery. And if Google finds out what you’re doing they might pull your ads, refuse to approve future ads, or ban you entirely.
Some trigger words to avoid include cannabis, marijuana, 420, THC, buds, hash and ganja.
YouTube, which is owned by Google, is also known to take a hard line on cannabis, flagging content and shutting down channels that intend to sell illegal items or show people engaging in illegal activity.
And if you’re looking to post videos on YouTube, you can’t include links to your website if you’re selling your products online, and your videos can’t contain any imagery of your products.
This brings me to my next point.
8. Focus on Principles Rather Than Products
Focusing on things like brand values and company culture are great ways to put out compelling content about your company with little to no mention of cannabis.
For instance, interviews with employees discussing why they’re passionate about what they do and why they’re proud to work for your company allow you to draw attention to your brand and show what you stand for, without more than a brief mention of the fact that you’re a cannabis company.
A video or article from the CEO or owner of the company discussing the values of your brand can be just vague enough to stay within the limits imposed on cannabis marketing in Canada, while being more than exciting enough to generate interest.
These are just a couple ideas I’m throwing out there, but there are tons of marijuana marketing methods you can use to promote your brand without having to even mention your products, so get creative!
Are you struggling to figure out how to market your brand and remain within the legal limits imposed on cannabis marketing in Canada? Contact The Best Media and check out our cannabis marketing services for more information.