Hacking Facebook To Push Cannabis—Smoke and Mirrors

Advertising cannabis is possible if you know how. Last November, California lawmakers proposed the legalization of cannabis (marijuana) via California’s Proposition 64. As one of the more intriguing ballot measures, companies within the industry have had elevated interest in how to reach target audiences to drive brand awareness and ultimately drive sales. With the foresight into Prop 64 passing, one company reached out to Hawke Media in an effort to guerrilla market an illegal substance (at the time in California), and ultimately test feasibility within Facebook—hacking the Facebook channel to build brand awareness.

Since marijuana is federally illegal, Facebook Advertising Policies prohibit the advertising of illegal substances on Facebook. However, with the right formula, Hawke Media + Anomaly were able to prove feasibility and hack the system. This formula consisted of three primary ingredients: creatively suggestive branding and design + air-tight copy (Anomaly), and special landing pages + Facebook Implementation (Hawke).

To start, Facebook Ad Guidelines prohibit content advertising cannabis, drugs, or any other illicit substances; see Section 4 of the Facebook Ad Guidelines. However, there is no ban on imagery and copy that is suggestive to helping relieve a certain need state—and this is where the content played a key role in passing under the radar. Notice how the image below makes no mention of weed, and the copy clearly speaks to a “recipe for pain relief”? Well, as we all know, cannabis has been medically proven to help support pain relief, and a recipe can be anything from a special supplement to a secret set of rituals to help relieve pain.

The second ingredient to this feasible formula was the air-tight copy. Using language such as “plant-based ingredients” is suggestive of cannabis, but more closely aligned with health and wellness; which was the overall strategy in brand positioning to consumers.

Lastly, the final ingredient that allowed for marketing such substance on Facebook was driving users to a special landing page. Again, supplementing our formula ingredients previously mentioned, the clear call-to-action (CTA) is to learn more, which drives users to hmblt’s informational page where they learn more about the “recipe for pain relief;” only to confirm their initial hunch that this special recipe is actually cannabis.Needless to say, this was a fairly short test that ran for several months. But it was certainly a demonstration of guerrilla marketing within Facebook to hack the system and build awareness around medical marijuana.

Needless to say, this was a fairly short test that ran for several months. But it was certainly a demonstration of guerrilla marketing within Facebook to hack the system and build awareness around medical marijuana.

Image credit: hmbldt

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