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14 Ways to Overcome Marijuana Marketing Obstacles

Do you work in a cannabis-based business or have you tried to advertise for someone who is?

Have you been successful or have you hit a roadblock along the way?

Chances are that you have hit roadblocks.  You may have had some short-lived success, but ultimately you have been or will be shut down when it comes to advertising your business using traditional methods of advertising.

Why do the television networks, Google and Facebook, etc. keep shutting down cannabis advertising?

There is a provision of the Controlled Substance Act that prohibits advertisements for marijuana and other Schedule I substances by stating that it is  ‘unlawful for any person to place in any newspaper, handbill, or other publications, any written advertisement knowing that it has the purpose of seeking or offering illegally to receive, buy or distribute a Schedule I controlled substance.’

Publications do have a safety net, per se with the Rohrabacher-Blumenauer amendment to the federal spending bill which prohibits the US Department of Justice from using federal funds to interfere with state-legal medical marijuana programs.  What this means is prosecutors cannot bring charges against state-legal medical marijuana businesses and those who provide products or services for them. It does not, however, provide protections for recreational marijuana.

Traditional marketing such as television, national magazines, radio, billboards, Google and Facebook is often not a viable source for advertising because marijuana is still illegal federally.  And while it is easy with Google and Facebook ads to target specific states where marijuana is legal and target only those who are legally old enough to use it, federal law superseded state law where a lawsuit can be tried at the federal level, and these advertising mediums cannot, or will not, advertise marijuana and risk their business.

How are the TV and radio stations at risk then?

The FCC is an independent U.S. government agency that is overseen by Congress.  One purpose of the FCC is to regulate communications of television and radio. A television or radio station is granted a license to operate based upon how well the company serves the public interest.  The radio and television stations do not find the risk of losing their license by not serving the public, worth the potential advertising dollars from the cannabis industry.

I have found conflicting answers when it comes to direct mail.  The USPS is, of course, a federal organization, and it is unlawful to use a communication facility (mail, telephone, wire, radio, etc.) to facilitate a felony, which is what advertising marijuana for sale is.  Advertisements for marijuana would then be deemed nonmailable. The postal service has previously stated that they will put this type of mail through, but they would then turn the issue over to the correct law enforcement agency.

Facebook and Google control the majority of the digital advertising space and do not allow marijuana advertising. Facebook and other social media sites may disable your account because you are a marijuana-related industry.  You might get away with running ads for a while, but remember you do not own your FB or any or your social media profile pages. You may find one day your page and all of your ads have been closed down.

Because of these reasons you can not rely on your social media profiles as your only source of information and connection to your audience  Even if you only provide educational materials, Facebook may find that is enough to shut you down - it has happened. Most recently, those in the marijuana industry went through a few months where Facebook was blocking any search functions related to marijuana, but that seems to have been lifted.

The good news is that regulations will likely change soon as more people, including lawmakers, believe that marijuana should be legalized.

The bad news is that it is not going to happen overnight, and when it does happen advertising costs will go up, so take advantage of what is available to you now and get a head start on everyone else.

More good news-bad news is that there are sites that are marijuana friendly for advertising, which is the good news. The bad news is that advertising on marijuana friendly sites you are advertising to those that already know about the industry.  Those who are trying to educate find it is harder to reach the people who may benefit from marijuana but do not already know about the benefits of cannabis for ailments from PTSD to severe epilepsy. Additionally, those who are new to cannabis and want to learn more may not be able to find information on it because they do not know of these cannabis friendly sources,

What is a cannabis business to do then?

Blog on your own website.  This is your owned property that cannot be taken away from you.

Facebook try different tactics with your advertising.  Facebook generally allows educational material, so if you are trying to boost a post or create an ad you might be able to do this.  However, beware that they may approve an ad and then still shut down your ad account.

Industry-specific publications such as High Times or Marijuana Business will accept your ads.

Email is crucial, but again certain email providers will not send out emails promoting the sale of marijuana.  Be sure it is allowed and that your content is not selling an illegal substance.

CRM software or Customer Relationship Management software is not only where you keep your email list, but it is also can house your customer’s preferences so that you can provide them the exact information they are looking for.  

In-store signage and displays and very well informed staff are some of the best and low-cost ways to market yourself.

Cross-market with other companies.  Find nearby companies with similar interests and cross-promote with them. For example, a customer buys my product he will receive a percentage off a yoga membership, conversely, if the customer purchases a yoga membership he receives a percentage off my merchandise.   

Billboards are an option but there are rules for that as well, such as a large % of people that see the billboard need to be over 21 which is hard to measure.

Product sampling, but be sure to comply with local ordinances.

Influencer marketing especially on Instagram.  If you are able to connect with an influencer on IG that has a large and engaged following, you will be introduced to a new market, increase your awareness and have more sales opportunities.

Engaging with your followers on your social media.  It’s called social media for a reason.  Get social! The different platforms reward you by showing your posts to more people when the algorithm tells them that your information is what the public is looking for.  More engagement = more viewers.

Mass Roots is a  cannabis centric social network which is great for those who are experienced in the cannabis realm, but not necessarily for the emerging market.

Duby is like an Instagram for cannabis but has the same drawbacks as Mass Roots.  It's perfect if your market knows about it. How to combat this? MAke sure your current customers know about it by placing the information around the store, in emails and your other communications with your customer.

Word of mouth is by far the best form of marketing.  More and more we rely on recommendations from friends and family.  Try making it beneficial to your current customers to tell their friends and family about you by offering a kickback of some sort.

Rose Jacobsen