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Let’s Be Blunt About Cannabis Marketing

Written in collaboration by Burke Dorman (Social Media Manager) – Alexis Soer (Digital Copywriter) – and Shawn-Michael Hann (Bilingual Project Manager) 

With the imminent legalization of cannabis on October 17th, Canadian cannabis vendors are looking for innovative ways to market their brands. Companies and advertising firms will have to remain cautious when creating promotional cannabis content because of regulations imposed by Health Canada.

Health Canada is firm about their approach on cannabis legalization. This includes enforcing low-key packaging, abiding by advertising restrictions, and leaving behind the flashy campaigns used historically for alcohol. (The Guardian, 2018).

Health Canada has proposed the following Cannabis marketing rules:

  • Marketing materials cannot promote people or events
  • Marketing materials cannot contain celebrity endorsements
  • Marketing materials cannot contain promotions of glamour, recreation, risk, excitement, or daring behaviour
  • Marketing materials cannot promote positive or negative emotion associated with cannabis use
  • Marketing materials cannot show cannabis plants
  • Marketing materials cannot show people smoking cannabis

Therein lies the key to cannabis marketing: to remain obscure and yet recognizable. So how do you go about navigating through the loopholes of these ambiguous regulations? Multiple Canadian cannabis companies have already conquered this tactic of ‘recognized ambiguity’. These methods indirectly speak a message that makes its audience unravel it. For example, Tweed has scattered their social media profiles with images that, when read together, form a statement about cannabis. The connected photos read the word “Hi”, while almost instantly provoking us to think “High”. The key here is that Tweed knows what their audience is thinking, without anything directly being said.

As another example, MedReleaf is releasing a Cannabis-inspired beer with 4.20% alcohol content. In both cases, these companies promote their brand name while not overtly endorsing the use of cannabis. In this sense, they are proficient in advertising their business in conjunction with remaining within the safe space of cannabis marketing.

So how does one go about marketing for cannabis when the market has restraints every which way? As conventional advertising techniques are largely prohibited, marketing companies need to innovate new strategies for capturing market share. Marketers must place trust in consumers to interpret coded meanings rather than sticking to obvious promotional messages that take no effort to decipher. As a result of the competitive yet delicate advertising atmosphere, social media is becoming the chosen platform for testing promotional messages. While maneuvering through the broken eggshells of regulation is cumbersome, there are definitely ways to establish brand recognition:

1. Set-up an organic social media presence
Push your brand through organic marketing channels to become present in the marketing sphere before cannabis becomes legal. Ensure you promote your brand as opposed to the product.

2. Create branding that is subtle
The key is to evoke curiosity and interest without conveying a direct message.

3. Adopt education as an advertising strategy
This is a great method many companies are using for navigating cannabis marketing restrictions.

4. Enlist digital marketing agencies with experience in restricted fields
Agencies that have clients in pharmaceutical or alcohol industries know the law and advertising constraints and can work within its bounds. For more information on ELITE Digital’s experience with pharmaceutical marketing campaigns, contact us here. 

5. Utilize search engine optimization
Utilize SEO as a method of driving traffic to websites that have age-based blocking. Websites that are age-restricted, appropriate, and relevant (not pornographic or spammy websites) have fewer restrictions for product endorsement.

6. Do Your Research and Comply with all restrictions
This would seem like an obvious method but facing repercussions from Health Canada and having ads penalized by search engines (and social media networks) is a sure way to negatively impact your brand name and lead to future obstacles.

7. Be subtle and creative
Exercising creativity skills is a must when attempting to permeate the cannabis marketing landscape. This is the only way to make a statement without actually making a direct statement. Along with the previously mentioned  ‘Hi’ campaign, other companies are paving a new road in the marijuana advertising framework.

As cannabis makes its way into the lives of Canadians on October 17th, it will inevitably have a big impact; however, it is important to be careful in all marketing processes and remain compliant with Health Canada regulations. Cannabis companies are fortunate enough that their fellow competitors are at the same starting line in the race to the top of the rankings; as such, there is equal opportunity for all to succeed. Only time will tell who will be a hit and who will go up in smoke.

Looking to make your cannabis marketing campaign a hit? Contact us after here!

About Burke Dorman

Social Media Manager and Staff Writer at Elite Digital

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