Distinguishing your brand and its offerings in the competitive cannabis landscape with investors, practitioners, and consumers alike will determine who is in the green rush for the long game. This guide offers tips and tactics to consider when formulating your marketing strategy.
It’s organized as follows, and you can read it from top to bottom, or you can download the PDF version of Cannabis 101: A Pocket Guide to save and access at your convenience.
Humans have an endocannabinoid system consisting of nerve receptors. These receptors not only influence the immune system and perception of pain, but also impact mood, wellbeing, and emotional reactions.
The Endocannabinoid System
It’s always best to start any conversation with a level setting of what means what, and that’s especially true when talking to a passionate cannabis brand ambassador. So, just as you would take a moment to learn a few basic phrases when traveling abroad, below are a few terms to familiarize yourself with when talking about cannabis.
Cannabis is the scientific (genus) name of the hemp/marijuana plants in the family Cannabinaceae. It’s also used as a broad industry term to describe any of the various products derived from these plants.
Cannabinoids are chemical compounds—ingredients—found in cannabis plants and a handful of other botanical sources. The two most commonly referenced cannabinoids are CBD (cannabidiol) and THC (tetrahydrocannabinol). CBD does not have psychoactive effects on users, but THC does. Recently, CBG (cannabigerol), another non-intoxicating cannabinoid, has been making waves in the market as well.
Cannabinoids are the compounds that interact with the endocannabinoid system to produce the various therapeutic and/or psychoactive effects.
The legality of cannabis products varies by state and product type.
Hemp CBD is federally legal as of the 2018 Farm Bill, but must comply
THC-infused CBD—THC content below 0.3% is no longer a controlled substance per federal law, but it may be regulated at the state level.
Products and services, such as dispensaries and accessories,
THC is still illegal at the federal level, but many states have passed legislation decriminalizing medicinal and/or recreational use.
The cannabis industry, at its core, is an entrepreneurial landscape. Succeeding takes focus and time. For best results, employ a coordinated cannabis marketing strategy where everyone commits to knowing more. *Important Note: Regulations are subject to change. Before running cannabis advertising initiatives, confirm legalities with local municipalities and confirm with partners.
Brands can’t just assume that because medical marijuana is legalized in their state, it’s permitted regionally or even city-by-city. For example, in Maine, cannabis advertisers cannot run location-based targeting unless the ads run in-app and are served to adults ages 21 and older. In Massachusetts, where cannabis is legal for both medical and recreational use, ads can only promote use for a medical condition. In California, however, ads can run on the mobile web as well as in-app and can promote recreational or medical use. It’s truly a “who’s on first, what’s on second” situation.
As a result, on the West Coast—in states such as California or Washington where cannabis has been recreationally legal for several years—digital campaigns are typically trafficked and launched without a hitch. Generally, challenges arise in the newly approved recreational states where the guidelines for cannabis advertisers are constantly in-flux, creating more red tape for multi-state operators. For example, one of MNI’s largest cannabis clients intended to launch a major campaign in Michigan at the beginning of March, but the campaign has been placed on hold due to requirements for additional state approvals that were not extant when the campaign was initially booked.
The limited number of media outlets that allow cannabis advertising presents marketers with challenges as well. Broadcast is greatly restricted since cannabis is not yet federally legal. Many major websites are rejecting cannabis ads for this same reason. Out-of-home (OOH) advertising has been restricted in California to exclude any interstates. The same restrictions apply to magazines as well. Most of the major publishers, including the nation’s top magazine publisher, Meredith Corporation, will not accept cannabis-related ads until the product is deemed federally legal.
Keeping abreast of all the moving pieces with marijuana regulation and publisher preferences is a full-time job, and that’s why more and more brands are seeing the benefit of tapping into experts on everything from brand positioning to programmatic exchanges. In the cannabis business, it’s important to have trusted partners committed to knowing and keeping clients informed on what’s permitted where, day-by-day and week-by-week. No one person can do it alone.
Education is paramount when it comes to cannabis advertising. It’s important to remember that this is a new arena for many, and older generations carry perceptions from when they may have used the product differently at a younger age. Brands that have easy to use websites are more likely to form relationships with consumers. Consumers commonly look for items such as ingredients, source materials, and recommended usage.
In addition to educating potential customers about the product itself, we’re finding that several brands are focusing their media efforts on education surrounding the overall benefits that cannabis/CBD products provide in everyday life.
In terms of tactics employed for digital, there are a multitude of options for brands looking to reach either the medicinal or recreational consumer. These options range from display, pre-roll, streaming audio, digital-out-of-home and high-impact rich media, among others. While these types of tactics can be employed for either recreational or medicinal use, we’re finding that the medical advertisers are focusing more on condition-based audience targeting segments, such as those with glaucoma or anxiety, which have been the two most popular health-related segments to date.
Programmatic advertising simplifies the process from end-to-end for cannabis brands. It solves the largest problem cannabis marketers face: which publishers will accept cannabis ads. Before considering a programmatic campaign for cannabis products, businesses must first ensure they comply with all legal requirements. Once legal and policy considerations are met, programmatic advertisers and vendors will then need to layer in business considerations.
Questions for prospective programmatic partners:
How does my technology stack
What cannabis products and services can we market to enhance revenue without disrupting legacy relationships or damaging user experiences?
To stand apart, marketers need partners and exchanges, in addition to the human touch. This is how brands stay informed and at the top of their game. MNI provides a comprehensive cannabis advertising solution in one wrapper.
While permissible in editorial content about the industry, some states prohibit photos that depict recreational use in product advertising.
At the heart of cannabis marketing is education and communication. As luck would have it, that’s what MNI does best. We’d love to learn about your business and priorities and hope to lend a hand in helping you realize your goals.
MNI Targeted Media (MNI) is uniquely qualified to solve—efficiently and effectively—one of your biggest advertising hurdles: determining and securing approved placements to accept cannabis advertising. We bring data to define audiences and strategies and implement campaigns that are monitored daily to track ROI.
MNI has been in the targeted marketing space since 1968 and our clients span local, regional, and national advertisers across the United States. We are on the forefront of cannabis advertising and have our programmatic exchange, Cannabx, designed exclusively for Cannabis advertisers. At our core, we are targeting specialists and can help you navigate the challenges of reaching all targets and all sectors of the cannabis industry with our cannabis marketing solutions.