Since the passage of the Farm Bill in 2018, which legalized the production of hemp for the first time since 1937, cannabidiol (CBD) has become one of the hottest trends in consumer goods. From topicals and gummies to sports drinks and tinctures, CBD has spawned a $1.9 billion industry in the U.S. alone.
That success is not without its own marketing challenges, however. Although cannabis is now legal in 19 states, it’s still illegal at the federal level. As a result, from an advertising perspective, it’s treated much the same as guns, tobacco, or gambling — rigorous restrictions or outright bans apply.
It doesn’t help either that the Food and Drug Administration has yet to approve any product containing CBD other than Epidiolex. As a result, CBD brands are prohibited from making any medical claims about the effectiveness of their products, even when supported by anecdotal reviews or peer-reviewed studies.
Overcoming Cannabis Marketing Challenges
Given that the major digital advertising channels like Facebook, Instagram, Google, Amazon, and — most recently — Snapchat and TikTok do not allow CBD brands to run paid ads, the only viable option to get your message out and differentiate yourself is with valuable organic content supported by strong SEO strategies, beautiful branding, interactive websites, user-generated social content, and earned media. That’s not a bad strategy either. By investing in expert-led, educational content that references authoritative sources (.edu, .org, etc.), brands can quickly rise up the search rankings.
But these only go so far. While effective, these channels are becoming saturated, and brands are missing out on the growth-accelerating power of paid acquisition, leaving a booming industry to wonder: Where can you advertise a CBD brand?
Can You Advertise CBD on Facebook and Instagram?
Although it is possible to post organic CBD content on both Facebook and Instagram, neither platform will allow any ads that feature references to CBD, cannabis, marijuana, or hemp. Remove any explicit references to these and there is a chance that your ad will be approved, but even then, it is not uncommon for Facebook to reject campaigns that comply with its policies.
Facebook has lifted its initial blanket ban and will now (in theory) allow ads for CBD topicals but not ingestibles. Bear in mind, however, that Facebook crawlers will also search the domain and can block ads that link to pages promoting the sale of ingestible CBD products.
The most successful brands will either focus on the lifestyle and well-being aspects of CBD rather than its sale or will work with influencers to create educational content that evades the ban. Others will take a craftier approach and scrub a second domain of all references to CBD, which can link to the sales page once Facebook approves the ads.
Can You Advertise CBD on Google?
No joy here either. Google does not allow ads that promote the use or sale of cannabis, CBD, or hemp. To circumvent this rule, brands should focus on educational content that draws visitors to a landing page in the same spirit. At this point, the brand can then be retargeted with ads or emails that link to a sales page. Except yet again, there is an obstacle to overcome here too.
New Challenges for SMS Retargeting
Since May 2021, several SMS platforms have started terminating services for cannabis companies, effectively imposing a ban on SMS marketing and retargeting for CBD brands. The bigger carriers, such as T-Mobile, now require companies to register for approval, with severe fines for unregistered traffic.
Brands who don’t want to fall afoul of Federal Communications Commission, CAN-SPAM, and Telephone Consumer Protection Act regulations should strip all references to CBD and cannabis from their text messages, implement a double opt-in and STOP-to-opt-out option for subscribers, and remember to block any outgoing campaigns to states where cannabis isn’t legal. As with PPC advertising, a potential work-around is to link to a site that has been stripped of cannabis-related content, but many will find that this rather neuters the quick and frictionless nature of SMS in the first place.
Clearly, CBD advertising is a complex, nuanced undertaking. One solution is to outsource your marketing to an agency with a hive mind of expert marketers constantly developing creative strategies to navigate exactly such situations. But if you’re going to attempt to do it yourself, here are six ways you can effectively advertise your CBD brand and products, despite limitations on major platforms:
1 – Influencer Marketing
There’s no shortage of high-profile celebrities who have jumped on board the cannabis bandwagon, but even lesser-known figures who typify the CBD lifestyle can make a big impact. Influencer marketing allows brands to reach a wider audience on social by tapping into the communities of tastemakers in relevant industries. Your brand can leverage the trust that influencers have built with their followers to promote your products in an organic way. Sometimes, picking the right influencers for your brand can be tricky — keep in mind that sometimes influencers with smaller, niche audiences can make better partners for brands than influencers with broader reach but less engagement.
2 – Affiliate Marketing
It hasn’t taken long for some hemp manufacturers to become big CBD brands, and the sector overall continues to settle into clearly defined niches. That landscape supports affiliate marketing, through which publishers generate traffic to your website. Because affiliate fees are completely performance-based, working with affiliate networks offers your brand a low-risk way to generate quality traffic. Be sure that your conversion and retention strategies are in place, as customers from affiliate partners often present the highest potential customer lifetime value.
3 – Native Advertising
Ostracized from search engine and social media advertising, many brands are naturally consolidating their efforts in communities where CBD fans are already gathering. Native advertising is a form of advertising, typically within a digital publication, where placements look like relevant content. By placing your content into publications like Civilized, with millions of active readers of all shapes and sizes, you can leverage their audiences to grow awareness for your brand.
4 – Content Syndication
Similar to native advertising, content syndication is another great way to leverage your content to drive brand awareness. Platforms like FieldTest can help republish your content on relevant third-party sites, allowing you to put the right content-based advertisements below or near similar articles. Relevant is the key word here, and it’s important to work with a syndicator who understands the various CBD subcultures — so that your pet CBD, for example, doesn’t end up alongside something like fitness or medicinal marijuana content.
5 – Out-of-Home
Billboards. Sounds old-school, but it works. This traditional form of marketing presents a great way to grow awareness and move products in specific retail locations. The drawback? It can get expensive. Bear in mind, too, that an out-of-home CBD ad is not like a soda or clothing ad. You’ll need to know the local and state laws (e.g., no placement near schools or places of worship), and should steer clear of marijuana-derived CBD or ingestibles.
6 – Podcast Ads
Marketing your brand to dedicated podcast listeners is another great way to boost awareness, especially as CBD graduates from a product to a lifestyle culture. Though it can be expensive, placing ads into relevant podcasts associates your brand with personalities their listeners trust.
The CBD industry continues to spread like a weed through organic channels. With these paid acquisition methods, CBD brands can add fuel to the fire of organic growth, despite extremely limiting restrictions on major digital platforms. As with any paid acquisition strategy, brands should be attentive to data, always testing and optimizing strategies to maximize budgets for ROI.
The National Cannabis Industry Association — Committee Blog: Re-thinking Cannabis Track and Trace Models — A Sustainable and Scalable Approach
FieldTest — 5 Easy Steps to A Successful CBD Ad Campaign
OOH Today — 6 Do’s And Don’t’s Advertising CBD Products