If you want to market cannabis in Canada with ads showing sheets of shatter or babes toking bongs, think again.
Under the Cannabis Act, mass advertising is prohibited, so that rules out things like advertising on billboards and bus shelters, radio or TV ads, or ads in magazines and newspapers.
Presumably, that means advertising on the Internet is prohibited, as well, but I’ve seen plenty of post-legalization digital advertising.
Canadian Cannabis Act – Promotional Exceptions
But despite cannabis companies pushing the envelope, the Cannabis Act only provides a few vague exceptions to the promotional prohibitions that Canadian cannabis companies are expected to follow.
These “vague” exceptions that allow companies to market cannabis in Canada include: informational and brand-preference promotions.
Informational Promotions – Cannabis
Informational promotions refer to promotions that provide factual information to consumers about the characteristics, availability or price of cannabis, cannabis accessories or services related to cannabis. (i.e. You’re promoting information about cannabis, not promoting the sale of a product)
Brand-preference Promotions – Cannabis
Brand-preference promotions refer to promotions based on the brand characteristics of cannabis, cannabis accessories or services related to cannabis. (i.e. You’re promoting your brand and not the actual product you are selling)
If the promotion is determined to be either informational or brand-preference in nature, then it can be marketed in Canada if it meets the following requirements:
- Included in communication addressed and sent to individuals who are 18 years of age or older and identified by name
- Found in a place where young people can’t legally go
- Communicated through telecommunications, if “reasonable steps” are taken to make sure that young people can’t access these promotions
- Found in a “prescribed place” or “done in a prescribed manner”
In addition, there is an exception for displaying a “brand element” on things other than cannabis or cannabis accessories, as long as it’s not something associated with young people, appealing to young people, or associated with a lifestyle “that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring.”
There’s also an exception for promoting products at the point of sale, so long as the promotion only indicates price and/or availability.
However, the obscurity of promotional prohibitions, lack of legal precedent, and restrictions on cannabis marketing imposed by search engines and social media are forcing cannabis companies to test the legal limits of pot promotion.
And sadly, it looks like the government might end up making examples of some cannabis companies before we have any real clarity on exactly what is allowed and what isn’t.
On a positive note, all this ambiguity has inspired Canadian cannabis companies to get very creative with their marketing.
Let’s look at some of the more interesting examples of cannabis marketing in Canada.
Canadian Cannabis Companies Pushing the Legal Limits of Pot Promotion
Alberta-based medical cannabis company, Aurora Cannabis, has taken an educational approach to its advertising.
Many of Aurora’s ads pose questions to the viewer or try to persuade them to join a conversation on cannabis or visit their website to learn more.
Arguably, these kinds of ads could fall under the veil of informational promotion, and they also present Aurora as an authority in the cannabis industry.
Canopy Growth’s self-proclaimed “most recognized cannabis brand in the world” has some of the cleverest cannabis advertising I’ve ever seen.
Tweed’s ads are downright cheeky, poking fun at the restrictions imposed on cannabis advertising, but with no mention of cannabis in their ads, the jokes might go right over your head.
The vagueness of Tweed’s advertising creates curiosity in people wondering what the hell these ads are for, and it presents a potential legal loophole, as they could claim they’re only promoting their brand, not cannabis.
Aurora and Tweed both purchased ad space in Dundas Square.
In an act of pure marketing genius, MedReleaf released two cannabis-free products prior to legalization to promote its recreational cannabis brands, AltaVie and San Rafael ’71.
While these products don’t contain any cannabis, they’ve undoubtedly generated interest in the brands they were meant to promote.
Under the brand name AltaVie, they released a cannabis-flavoured toffee called Cannabis Crunch.
And for San Rafael ’71, they released a beer under the same brand name called 4:20 Pale Ale, promoting it as something you can drink while you wait for cannabis to be legal.