Marijuana legalization obviously varies state by state, and so do the laws that surround it. As cannabis brands and dispensaries enter the marketplace, they need to consider both local and federal laws when it comes to suppliers, distribution, and — for our purposes — marketing. Cannabis marketing and advertising presents unique challenges. Here are the marketing laws that are common in most states where pot has been legalized, and how cannabis brands and shops can respond.
Advertise Where the Audience is 21+
Some form of this law exists in every state where marijuana has been legalized for recreational use. In Illinois, for example, brands simply can’t place physical advertisements near places that would specifically draw younger crowds, such as arcades, parks, libraries, or schools. California allows digital advertising, but only on channels where at least 71.6% of the audience is 21 or older.
The benefit of being forced to advertise to a specific demographic — in this case, adults 21 and older — is that your audience is automatically focused. You don’t have to appeal to broader audiences, and can think about where adults in your age range are already spending time and money.
Hawke has invested digital media attention in channels like podcasts, where you can get specific demographic information. In states where paid media is permitted — which comes with its own slew of regulations that vary by territory — you can specify age restrictions when building your ads.
It is also beneficial to the brand to partner with other adult-oriented products, a common one being alcohol. Develop networking partnerships with local breweries and similar establishments that are already reaching your desired audience and operating within your age-compliance laws.
Keep Cannabis Marketing Mature
The idea behind these laws is that, just like not being allowed to advertise to people under age 21, a cannabis brand’s marketing cannot look like it is designed to appeal to younger audiences. In California, mascots are not allowed. In Illinois, a mascot can be used for advertising, but it cannot be in a cartoon form. In Washington, other forms of physical advertising are outlawed for appealing to kids, such as inflatable tubes like you’d see at a car dealership.
As with age compliance, there’s no reason these laws need to hinder your marketing strategy as a cannabis brand. Quite the opposite, they empower your brand to focus marketing on the aspects of your business that really matter. For cannabis products, focus on the quality of your goods. Speak to how the product is sourced, how it makes customers feel, and so on. Better yet, dispel misconceptions about marijuana and speak to how your product is the mature, quality answer to potential users’ concerns.
If you’re a dispensary, focus on service. The speed of service, the expertise of your salespeople, or the variety of products can all be used to appeal to different demographics without ever resorting to elementary marketing tactics. This more tangible approach to marketing will help customers understand, resonate with, and remember your brand’s core values and mission.
Steer Clear of Explicit References
These regulations can be the trickiest for marketers, and they’re definitely the ones that vary the most from state to state. In some states, you just can’t show a product being used. In others, you can’t show the physical product at all, such as leaves or buds. In other states still, you cannot use certain words. In Washington, for example, marketing materials cannot use a set list of words that includes “leaf” and “joint.”
The first thing advertisers should do to stay in compliance is conduct some SEO research. When people search for your business, what are they looking for specifically? This will guide the terminology you should be operating in for your business in general, and then you can research the laws around those terms as a next step. Perhaps your marketing materials aren’t allowed to say “marijuana,” but they can say “420.” If your research proves that your audience knows and searches for that term, this law isn’t an issue at all.
Besides looking for technical work-arounds, the smartest thing your brand can do to advertise cannabis is get clever. Perhaps you don’t need to conduct a traditional marketing campaign at all. Weedmaps saw success by using its media to promote marijuana education, dispelling misconceptions and concerns over their product. It served more as a public service announcement, but effectively built the brand’s authority and public awareness.
How To Combine It All
For every good cannabis marketing idea your brand has, a lot of compliance research will need to be conducted. Perhaps you intend to get around using explicit terms by focusing on the effects of your product — relaxation, laughter, and so on — but you find that you operate in a state that requires researched data to be included with any claims of positive effects. It can get tricky to navigate, but effective marketers see each regulation and restriction as an opportunity for innovation.
If you need help staying in compliance without compromising your advertising message, contact Hawke Media. We’ve worked with numerous cannabis brands, and have seen success in both digital and physical media. Whether it’s building branding from the ground up or figuring out how to get legal copy on approved channels, Hawke can get your brand as high as you want to soar.