In 2018, Canada made a revolutionary decision to legalize cannabis after the substance was illegal for over 100 years! This much-desired change led the cannabis industry into a big economic boom with storefronts popping up wherever they could and cannabis stocks rising through the roof. Calgary was, and still is, considered one of Canada’s hubs for recreational cannabis.
Cannabis advertising challenges
With the legalization of cannabis, came lots of regulation through the Cannabis Act. The act, for the purposes of this article, is our guide through the magical world of advertising cannabis and cannabis accessories. Finding out that there are special rules about how cannabis needs to be marketed might kill your buzz, but have no fear, we will be breaking down some of the most important marketing rules to know for your cannabis business.
As with any age-gated substance, like alcohol or tobacco, cannabis must be marketed to only a limited amount of the population to ensure that the products and/or services are not promoted to persons under the age of consumption. The Cannabis Act Promotion Prohibitions is a set of regulations that apply to any company or person involved with promoting cannabis. In essence, this part of the Cannabis Act describes that cannabis-related brands must be careful about how they promote their products/services in order to avoid massive fines or imprisonment.
Cannabis ad regulations
It can be difficult to navigate all the new hemp advertising laws, and it’s often hard to figure out the grey areas and what the regulations will and won’t allow. Here are some of the main laws around advertising cannabis which you should be aware of, and how some companies are choosing to handle them.
Advertising cannabis to minors or young persons
In the simplest terms possible, the law states that promoting cannabis and cannabis-related products in any way that is tailored towards minors should be avoided at all costs. These restrictions apply to putting your logo on items that may appeal to minors or young persons as well as ensuring that underage viewers don’t have direct access to cannabis-related websites or content. Some companies have even come under scrutiny for the names of their cannabis, stating that their enticing and flavourful names could appeal to minors.
Our Fix: Age-Gate All of your Online Media
Most companies have decided to age-gate their websites and social media profiles. Just like the tobacco and alcohol industry, cannabis companies are following suit and often placing warnings on their social media profiles that visitors or followers must be of a certain age to access the content of their profile. Since the age of consumption varies per province, it’s best to look up your province’s regulations in order to properly age-gate your content.
Sharing testimonials or endorsements
According to cannabis advertising laws, all brands must avoid sharing testimonials or endorsements of their products/services from customers, celebrities, or social media influencers. Although there does seem to be a grey area about what can be used as an exception as several cannabis companies are using some form of testimonials or reviews in their marketing strategy.
Our Fix: Feature your brand rather than your products
One solution to this issue is focusing your marketing strategy on highlighting the brand itself rather than the products. We would argue that the safest practice is to not include any testimonials or reviews in your marketing strategy, but some companies have been using testimonials regardless of the consequences. We recommend companies maintain a focus on the holistic and human aspects of their brand or how it relates to consumers, rather than about the actual products/services.
The catch with social media marketing is that all of your posts can be legal and follow the promotional laws, but still get your images removed from the platform because it doesn’t support cannabis-related content. This can lead to a suspension of your account or worse, a complete cancellation.
Marketing Cannabis as an appealing or exciting lifestyle
A large part of marketing is catering your ads to the kind of lifestyle you’d like your products and services to be associated with; unfortunately, this is not the case for cannabis marketing in Canada. If you do see cannabis companies producing this kind of content on social media, they are likely based in the United States and are not subject to the same strict regulations as Canadian companies.
Here at Green Ruckus Communications, we do not recommend posting content involving the consumption of cannabis as a lifestyle choice. As we mentioned, put your effort into your brand experience – you can find some references and best practices on social media here. It’s possible some companies will experiment with what is an acceptable depiction of the use of their product pending upon their interpretation of the laws. This is risky as it can lead to more serious consequences for yourself and your brand in the future.
Our Fix: Focus on your target audience
Since cannabis isn’t a product that will increase the social status of your clients, it shouldn’t be presented to potential consumers in this light. Focusing on your brand values and promoting your business through these values is the best way to work around Canada’s cannabis advertising laws. Rather than featuring popular stoner celebs smoking cannabis or an up-close shot of your favorite strain, brands have instead opted for pictures that inspire its audience to believe in the values that the brand is promoting. Branded content can come in many different forms, we always suggest that companies work with a creative team in order to produce the best possible content for their digital marketing.
Finding out what works on social media for your business while also staying within the parameters of the promotional cannabis laws is difficult. There are plenty of grey areas that companies often find themselves being penalized for falling within, we recommend familiarizing yourself with your province’s laws and regulations before starting any digital marketing. It’s also a good idea to reach out to your legal advisors to ensure your strategy falls within regulations.
If you need help to creatively navigate the cannabis laws in Canada, our team of experts at Green Ruckus Communications is always ready to help!