With legal cannabis becoming more mainstream, more states opening their doors to the industry, and billions of dollars in investment flowing in, it's more important than ever that companies behave in an ethical and compliant manner. This is especially true of their approach to marketing, as this represents the face of the industry for most consumers and critics.
As we move closer to possible federal legalization and oversight, the cannabis industry needs to consider how best to market itself. With that in mind, I think it's worth taking a moment to consider the very helpful marketing standards put out by Cresco Labs. These guidelines are meant to be adoptable by any cannabis business in any state to ensure not just they are adhering to local laws, but also operating in an ethical and reputable manner that will help advance, rather than hinder the industry as a whole.
We believe that we are privileged to be a part of the national cannabis industry and global cannabis community, and it is important to us that we always do our best to produce content that will serve that community and not reflect poorly on ourselves or any of our clients.
At The Hood Collective, we place a great deal of emphasis on being a good actor in the industry. We believe that we are privileged to be a part of the national cannabis industry and global cannabis community, and it is important to us that we always do our best to produce content that will serve that community and not reflect poorly on ourselves or any of our clients.
The following is an overview of the advertising guidelines and best practices we think should be a part of any federal regulation. If you have thoughts or additional recommendations with regards to these guidelines, please share them in the comments below.
Start Your Marketing Campaign By Formulating A Strategy And Budget
It may seem a bit off topic, but we see cannabis businesses all the time that are wasting money on advertising when they have no cohesive plan, let along a budget. From our point of view, this is a serious problem that's impacting a lot of companies negatively, and ties directly into how we try to operate as a cannabis marketing agency from an ethical perspective.
If you don't have an overall strategy or approach to your marketing, it's easy to throw money at platforms and content that doesn't yield the kind of results you are expecting. Whether it's wasting your money on a vendor that can't deliver, marketing yourself via a channel that can't verify it's effectiveness, or creating content that no one is every going to see (or that you wish no one would see because of it's poor quality), all of these mistakes can be prevented by starting off with clear objectives and a plan for achieving them.
While it's true that your might want to engage in experimentation, such as A/B testing to see what works and what doesn't, this doesn't mean you want to throw everything and the kitchen sink against the wall to see what sticks. A lot of time and money can be wasted by doing your research before you get started on your marketing campaign, even if it's just to research who the reputable marketing companies are in your area.
Know The Cannabis Advertising Rules In Your State (And Make Sure To Follow Them)
It should go without saying, but before you do any advertising for your cannabis business, make sure you know the laws and regulations for advertising in your state backwards and forwards. We recommend that cannabis businesses have a full time employee who's in charge of compliance. Definitely don't rely on outsiders to tell you what is and isn't allowed, because if they get it wrong, you'll be the ones paying the consequences.
Because we operate in multiple states, we never make any claims regarding what the specific rules are in your region. It would be a nearly herculean task were we to attempt to do so. While we do maintain a state by state guide to marketing on our site, this is just the barest minimum of an overview, which we hope can serve as a starting point for you to get the information you need. The fact is that these rules are changing all the time, and in some cases, cannabis companies are subject to oversight from both state and local agencies.
While following the guidelines below is a good start with regards to establishing your own best practices, it is by no means a guarantee. In some cases, the recommendations below will be more comprehensive than the rules in your location, while in others they won't cover everything.
Promote Responsible Cannabis Consumption
At the heart of any cannabis marketing campaign should be a commitment to responsible consumption. In the same way that beer and alcohol brands advocate for responsible drinking or remind their customers to never drink and drive, the same should be true for cannabis companies.
In practice, this starts with refusing to show consumption in your ad campaigns. This is a tenet of many states' rules for cannabis advertising, but certainly not all. It also entails choosing not to depict your products, and cannabis in general, as a party drug or even featuring models or customers in a state of intoxication. In particular, it's important not to encourage over consumption.
Along the same lines, responsible cannabis companies will not suggest that people who chose not to consume cannabis are somehow missing out or making a bad choice. We recommend presenting cannabis in a way that makes it clear that it is a personal choice, with no right or wrong answer except based upon what's best for the individual.
Finally, just like with alcohol, driving while under the influence should never be endorsed or encouraged, and in fact should be actively discouraged by your brand. We recommend that every cannabis brand formulate verbiage that is featured prominently on their products and website regarding the safe use of their products, in addition to whatever warning labels are required in your state.
Don't Advertise To Minors
Every state has it's own rules when it comes to advertising cannabis, but one of the most universal tenets is a strict ban on marketing to minors. Not only should it be clearly stated that your products are not intended for use by those under the age of 21 (except as advised by a medical doctor), but you need to take action to ensure that you are not depicting your products in a way that would be clearly attractive to minors.
The clearest example of what not to do in this area is the old Joe Camel marketing campaign. Cannabis companies should not use mascots or animated characters in their branding, including the use of animals, fruits, or celebrity endorsements, that will clearly, or even possibly, appeal to teens. Edible companies that sell infused cookies or candies should take extra measures to ensure that they aren't marketing to those who are underage.
You may look at this as barely worth mentioning. Of course you would never market to minors. But it's imperative that you take a proactive approach to avoid even the hint of wrongdoing. Evaluate all of your marketing and branding and consider if someone might reasonably infer that your content could be targeting minors. Better to err on the side of caution at all times.
Don't Make Misleading (Of False) Claims
No matter what industry you're in, you can't make false claims about your products. This is known as false advertising, and if you engage in it, you'll be in trouble. Fairly or unfairly, people might view cannabis businesses through the stigma of the black market, which never was subject to any of the normal oversight that every other business normally is subject to, and treat any claims with a high degree of skepticism. This means you should strive even harder to behave responsibly in what you say about your products.
There's the straightforward rule that you can never lie about what you are selling (ie say that you are selling 1/8ths and then purposely provide less than an 1/8th to save money). But you can't be intentionally (or unintentionally deceptive either) which can be a much grayer area. Wording your copy in an intentionally vague and ambiguous manner so that your customers get the wrong idea is also a huge no-no.
The bottom line is that a successful brand should always do their best to be honest and transparent in all of their interactions with the public, and this includes in your advertising and marketing materials. Tell the truth, be straightforward, and don't leave out relevant information that your customers have the right to know. An example might be making the claim that you don't use any chemicals in the growing of your product and leaving out the fact you use chemical preservatives in the curing process. Yes, you haven't lied, but you haven't told the whole truth either.
Only Discuss Medical Benefits That Have Been Thoroughly Vetted
Along the same lines, when it comes to making claims around the medical efficacy of your products, it's imperative that you never say anything that isn't backed by reputable medical research. I hear lots of people make pretty remarkable statements about how cannabis or CBD can cure cancer or make you healthier in completely unsubstantiated ways. The CBD industry is already facing regulation by the FDA in this regards, but it's a certainty that as we move closer to federal legalization, new and stricter rules are on the horizon.
Besides wanting to be legally compliant, your cannabis brand depends on the trust you can build with your customers. Making false or misleading claims about the benefits your patients can expect isn't just illegal, but it's morally wrong. I know that many of you have gotten into this industry because you believe in the healing properties of the plant, and that in many cases you are being genuine in your advocacy. But the simple truth is that what works for one person may not work for another, and the more we learn about cannabis, the more we see that individuals all respond very differently to any given strain or product.
While it's important that you remain cautious in what you say about your products, I also highly recommend that companies incorporate an educational component into their marketing and branding. There's so much misinformation and misconceptions around this plant, and the more we can do as responsible actors to promote knowledge and science, the better off we'll be as an industry.
Check out this series we made in conjunction with Project CBD and Zoe Sigman:
Don't Tout Free Giveaways Of Cannabis Products
Finally, last but not least, you should avoid any marketing that announces free giveaways or samples. This is illegal in many states, but even in states where it is legal, it's a great way to get yourself banned from social media. This policy extends to advertising prices and sales. While this may be permissible on certain platforms, such as weed directories, on social media it's a clear violation of their terms of services.
This is just an overview of guidelines every cannabis business should follow. Depending on where you are located, there may be other straightforward do's and don'ts. For example, I know that in certain states, you are forbidden from using the word dispensary in your marketing. The bottom line is that it is your responsibility to follow the rules and operate in a compliant and ethical manner when it comes to your cannabis advertising.
Partner With The Hood Collective For Your Cannabis Marketing
Deciding to partner with a professional marketing agency is a big step for any cannabis company. The Hood Collective makes the process as easy as possible. Our affordable packages are helpfully structured so that businesses can choose exactly the services they need, and scale up as your profits increase. We work with growers, dispensaries, processors, distributors, event organizers, activists, lobbying organizations, and more, so we understand every aspect of the cannabis industry.
At The Hood Collective, we specialize in creating professional, attention-grabbing photography, video, and graphic design at a price point you can afford. We can fully take care of or support the marketing of your business, allowing you to concentrate on what you do best.
Contact us today to learn more.