The cannabis industry is relatively new and rapidly changing but already faces the complex task of marketing and advertising with no previous examples to use as reference.
Besides, we have to add the challenge of placing in the market the existing wide range of products containing CBD and the many purposes they serve- from oils or infusions used as cosmetic and body care products to food for human or pet consumption- to the main advertising purpose of attracting, gaining and retaining customers, which requires targeting diverse audiences and markets. Another obstacle any marketing action in this industry will have to overcome is the widespread prevalence of misinformation and the persistence of prejudice in the general public, as well as the consumer’s ignorance about new consumption patterns and the strictness of the existing advertising regulations. In Spain, for instance, as in most European countries, one of the legal requirements to sell CBD products is that the label must clearly indicate the technical nature of the product and state that is intended for external use only. As cannabis is not fully regulated in this country yet, there are not clear and specific advertising requirements either, so it would be necessary to look at more consolidated international markets, such as the United States or Canada, to understand new marketing strategies.
Most of national regulations prohibit the false or misleading promotion of alleged healing qualities. In the US, for example, it is mandatory to include a list of possible adverse reactions and many states, like Colorado, are using the already existing regulatory framework for alcohol as the basis for developing new cannabis regulation policies. Thus, TV or radio commercials and unsolicited pop-up advertisements on web pages are banned. In California, where you can find the largest and most developed sector of the U.S. cannabis industry, images that may appeal to a minor, such as characters from children's movies or cartoons, cannot be included on ads for CBD products. Also, the promotion of raffles, contests or promotional giveaways involving CBD products are strictly prohibited, although advertising on television and radio is permitted as long as at least 71.6% of the targeted audience is over 21 years of age or older. Canada does not allow ads including testimonials or targeting young people, product prices cannot be advertised and brands cannot be associated with a glamorous, fun or vibrant lifestyle.
Thereby, advertising and promotion strategies should aim to build a credible and trustworthy corporate image, offering clear and documented information to the consumers and breaking through biases and misinformation barriers. Therefore, we expect future cannabis advertising likely to be moderate and conservative, since current law leaves no room for innovation.
Despite of the limitations, some companies, like the American MedMen, are using surprising and shocking strategies: in 2019 they launched a controversial campaign called "The New Normal" starring Spike Jonze, who signed the commercial, defending decriminalization of marijuana and making a brilliant review of the history of this plant in the US. Already in 2018, the same advertising company had surprised the general public with an international campaign, “Cannabis”, in which they invested over $4 million.
Today, it is clear that the wide variety of the CBD-based products offer on the market is increasing and each of them will have to find their target audience. The first steps to find strong and effective advertising strategies in this sector are to overcome the existing prejudices and misinformation about marihuana in our society. There is no better promotion of a product than highlighting its quality and boosting the credibility of the company that offers it, so you can guarantee customers that they will be getting what they need and require. After that, your imagination is the limit. Well, your imagination and legal restrictions, of course.