By Brett Konen on July 15th, 2020
The PrograMetrix Guide to Display Ads for Cannabis & CBD
Ever wondered why display ads never seem to go away? It’s because they work.
Here’s an example: In March 2020, Seattle-based cannabis retailer The Bakeréé—like every other business—was faced with the onset of a global pandemic. Their challenge: To pivot their marketing efforts, virtually overnight, to encourage online ordering of cannabis products for curbside pickup.
They started with a single display ad, which we ran using programmatic technology. This effort was so successful that they were able to drive $154,000 of sales in the first 90 days, increase revenue from online orders by 389%, and see a 13x return on ad spend. Since then, they’ve expanded the campaign to include mobile, native, video, and CTV ads that build on the momentum created by display—check out their cannabis advertising case study here.
Whether you’re a cannabis, CBD, or hemp brand, it’s easy to get started with display advertising. Here’s how to do it, what works best, and why you should be using display ads in your cannabis marketing strategy.
What Are Cannabis Display Ads?
Display ads are the most classic of digital advertising formats—when people think of digital advertising, display banners tend to be what comes to mind. These ads come in several standardized sizes, which fit into spaces of matching dimensions on the hundreds of thousands of websites across the internet.
Display ads for cannabis or CBD require only a few things to create:
- A high-resolution image
- Your logo
- A short headline (we recommend 20–35 characters, including spaces)
- Concise body copy (we recommend 50–75 characters, including spaces)
- A call to action button (CTA—about 10–15 characters, give or take)
- A link to your landing page (use the page that’ll take the viewer closest to a conversion, rather than just sending them to your homepage)
To create a display ad, you’ll need someone with design experience to bring the elements above together to create the ad concept. (If you don’t have a designer on your team, you can ask your agency to provide their recommendation or handle the creative development process entirely—whatever you decide, we do strongly recommend working with a professional.)
Once approved by the appropriate stakeholders, this initial concept can then be reworked to create several versions of different sizes that fit the variety of standard display ad dimensions available from most websites. If you have a display ad that’s only sized to fit one set of dimensions, the ad inventory available to you for your campaign will be limited: Thus, it’s best to start with all standard sizes, even though certain ads may outperform the others over time and end up being the ones you’re focused on winning impressions with by the end of the campaign.
We recommend that most brands save out each of their ad concepts in the following five sizes for display advertising on desktop:
- 970x250: Billboard
- 728x90: Leaderboard
- 300x250: Medium Rectangle
- 300x600: Half Page Ad
- 160x600: Wide Skyscraper
It’s best for cannabis and CBD brands to develop at least two ad concepts at once, which can then be A/B tested in the programmatic platform used to deploy them. You may find that one ad performs best with skyscraper dimensions, while another works best in a leaderboard format. When you run a programmatic campaign, your campaign manager’s optimizations will include bidding up on the best-performing versions of each ad, and bidding down on the versions with lower conversion rates.
How to Run Compliant Display Ads for Cannabis
It’s already legal for both cannabis and CBD brands to run display advertisements for their products on mainstream websites. Most CBD brands can use industry-standard programmatic ad tech to do so. Cannabis brands currently need to use cannabis-specific programmatic ad tech. In both situations, compliance with local advertising rules and regulations can easily be ensured by using these platforms’ targeting capabilities to show ads exclusively to viewers ages 21 and over in locations where the products in question are legal.
Cannabis brands may be required to only show their ads to viewers within state boundaries, and many local businesses (such as dispensaries) may wish to narrow their targeting even further, to include a single county, city, or zip code. The Bakeréé, for instance, chose to show their display ads to viewers within a specific radius of each of their two retail stores, increasing the chances that viewers would be interested in making The Bakeréé their go-to neighborhood dispensary. CBD brands, on the other hand, can show their ads more widely and freely across state lines, and many will wish to do so since sales can be made to customers throughout the US. (For a case study on digital advertising for CBD, check out Ivyside.)
While cannabis marketing and advertising regulations vary from state to state, they can be boiled down to a few broadly applicable guidelines that you can use to guide your display ad development:
- No suggestion of health or medical benefits
- No elements that could appeal to children (cartoon characters, etc.)
- No false or misleading statements, including those made about competitors’ products
- No testimonials or endorsements
- No product consumption
- No pricing, potency statements, or promotional offers
- Ads for infused products must state “For Adult Use Only”
Additionally, cannabis brands in certain states are required to include state-specific disclaimer copy in their ad creative: Alaska, Arkansas, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington all require their own copy. Furthermore, cannabis business in Florida need to submit their ad creative for review through a state-specific approval process.
While the above provides a broadly applicable overview of current compliance guidelines, we still recommend researching your own state’s marketing and advertising laws to ensure compliance with the most up-to-date information available prior to beginning a campaign. (If you work with an agency or a cannabis-specific programmatic platform, they can help you with this.)
For a list of links to state-by-state cannabis marketing and advertising information, check out our digital ad compliance guidelines for cannabis and CBD brands.
What Are Display Ads Best At?
Display ads are great for building brand awareness: If you’re looking to launch a new brand or expand your existing top-of-funnel traffic (whether to stay top-of-mind through COVID-19 or simply to drive a healthy increase in demand for your brand over time), display is a great place to start. These ads appeal to many marketers because of their price point: Display ad impressions usually cost a fraction of a cent, making them significantly cheaper than other formats including search and video ads.
Display ads also work well for retargeting people who’ve already visited your website: The customer who was browsing your CBD products, became distracted, and closed out of the window may be reminded to complete their purchase with a display retargeting ad. Since they’re relatively easy to create, you can even use custom display ad concepts to address specific segments of your audience: For instance, a customer who visited your hemp oil page may be better served with an ad about that specific product, while another who was shopping for a CBD topical may be spurred to complete the purchase by something pertaining to that product category.
Display ads alone are generally not the strongest ad format for maximizing conversions, though the right ads certainly can lead to plenty of those (as The Bakeréé learned). We generally recommend that cannabis and CBD brands diversify their campaigns using several channels, with display ads as just one part of a cohesive strategy. Down the line, if you learn that a specific channel performs best for your brand, you can always reallocate a larger portion of your budget to that channel based on the data over time.
At PrograMetrix, we suggest that most new CBD and cannabis advertisers start with a combination of display, mobile, and native advertising; we also help interested CBD brands pursue search and social ad approval through Google and Facebook. For brands that are more serious about digital marketing, we then recommend developing video and audio ad creative for use through platforms like YouTube, connected TV/OTT providers like Hulu and Roku, and digital audio channels like Spotify and iHeartRadio.
To create display ads that work for your brand’s marketing goals, check out the following display ad examples and learn from the varied strengths and weaknesses of each cannabis, CBD, hemp, or ancillary ad below.
10 Examples of Cannabis & CBD Display Ads
The Bakeréé 4/20 Dispensary Display Ad
- This ad ties in with a major cannabis shopping holiday and serves as a clear reminder that 4/20 is approaching.
- The ad was created during the first month of the COVID-19 pandemic in the US, so the ease of picking products up curbside is called out as a key selling point.
- The Bakeréé offers a clear 10% off deal that stands out from the rest of the text. Deals and promotional offers have been shown to increase conversion rates.
- Washington state’s disclaimer text is included to ensure legal compliance, but made small enough that it doesn’t significantly distract from the rest of the ad.
- The call-to-action small and easily missed in the corner of the ad. CTA buttons should generally be big, bold, and situated front and center. This ad converted very well, but still may have done even better with a bolder CTA.
OLEO CBD .gif Display Ad
- This ad uses a .gif format, which works for two reasons: One, it fits more information into the ad without crowding the space, and two, the movement captures the viewer’s attention.
- This ad matches the look and feel of OLEO’s website, which also uses animations, matching font, and a blue-to-pink ombre color scheme. This has been shown to increase chances of conversion once the viewer arrives at your website.
- The ad uses a short-and-sweet copy strategy that touches on several selling points without getting overly wordy. Brands should lean on their landing pages to provide additional information, rather than overwhelming the ads with copy.
WYLD CBD Gummies Display Ad
- The ad’s imagery, copy, and product branding work together to convey the feeling of wilderness, nature, and discovery in multiple ways. For one, the design of the packaging is reflected of the design of the ad, which in turn is reflected on the company’s website.
- For another, the idea of discovery and the name of the brand itself fit together, highlighted by the use of antlers and raspberries.
- The raspberries also convey the product’s flavor and a unique value proposition (real fruit flavor) without requiring the consumer to read the copy in full.
- The copy feels crowded and a little jumbled, particularly with the inclusion of the disclaimer copy in a size and color that ties it in with the offer being made, rather than as an aside.
Crafty+ Cannabis Vaporizer Display Ad
- The ad’s purpose is clear: To introduce a new product. The one-word copy strategy makes this selling point obvious from the first glance.
- The ad looks streamlined and is uncrowded by text. The brand is relying heavily on the fact that many cannabis consumers will recognize the classic style of its logo—Crafty by Storz and Bickel, makers of the cannabis industry’s most iconic vaporizer.
- This one-word copy concept would likely be best suited to a retargeting strategy reaching people already familiar with the brand and its branding—however, it wasn’t being used that way.
- There’s no clear CTA leading the viewer to click; viewers are likely to glance, acknowledge the information provided, and move on.
Ivyside CBD eCommerce Display Ad
- Ivyside is targeting consumers with a specific lifestyle, and the photo chosen for the ad reflects that lifestyle, matching the specifications in the advertiser’s brand book.
- The copy also works in concert with the imagery, creating a cohesive feel and appealing directly to yoga enthusiasts, a core component of Ivyside’s target audience.
- The CTA is clear and stands out from the color scheme of the rest of the ad.
Smoke Cartel Online Headshop Horizontal .gif Display Ad
- This ad creatively and effectively uses a vertical pan with a .gif format to overcome the difficulty of showing a bong in a horizontal display ad. (Ed. note: Above is a screenshot.)
- The copy uses a widely recognized phrase along with the motion of the .gif to grab the viewer’s attention, then moves into showcasing the product and tacks on a guarantee of free shipping at the end. (The latter is something many consumers have come to expect in the era of Amazon, though it doesn’t always increase the likelihood of conversion as much as a promotional price or BOGO offer.)
- The black-and-white color scheme matches the brand’s logo and website, and works well for the difficult-to-highlight scientific glass being sold here.
- While most consumers will understand that the entire ad can be clicked on, a Shop Now CTA would make this online headshop’s ad stronger.
OHHO Hemp Oil Tasting Kit Display Ad
- The design’s color scheme matches the image used, which is professionally taken and suggests excitement and adventure.
- The key components of the offer being made in the copy (“Tasting Kit,” “CBD Oil,” and “Try It Now”) all stand out in the design.
- The CTA button is large and unmissable.
- This brand had at least three ads in circulation at the same time, which allows for A/B/C testing and gathering more data about what works best. (This particular concept is likely designed for and targeted at customers who have not come across the OHHO brand online before.)
- The “New to” portion of the copy is noticeable small and somewhat disconnected from the rest of the sentence; however, this is a minor design flaw.
SōKO Hemp 300x600 COVID Display Ad
- This ad speaks directly to consumers experiencing the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic. Acknowledging the viewer’s current experience helps the ad feel personalized and approachable.
- The 35% off offer is generous as well as immediately obvious.
- The main selling point and CTA are highlighted in a bright yellow that stands out on a black background and draws the eye directly from one to the other. While the copy is succinct and adds value, viewers who are immediately interested by the discount don’t necessarily need to read what’s in between before they click.
- This ad matches the look and feel of SōKO’s website, which improves the likelihood of conversion once a viewer arrives there.
CBDistillery “Gimmick-Free” Display Ad
- This ad uses a bold and modern color scheme, minimal copy, and a clear value proposition to differentiate themselves from the competition. Between the photo editing and eye-catching colors, it is clearly professionally designed.
- The brand accurately identifies a key pain point for consumers in the CBD industry: Unregulated CBD products of dubious quality or efficacy. This helps CBDistillery gain the trust of the ad viewer.
- The ad is funny. Humor often works well in ads, helping them feel less salesy.
- The ad design and copy are both pleasantly symmetrical, creating an ad that feels balanced and uncrowded.
- This ad lacks a clear CTA.
- The copy doesn’t explain why CBDistillery is worth trusting over the “gimmicks” (though this may be something that’s more wisely addressed on their website).
Dr. Dabber Vape Pen Vertical Display Ad
- This ad wisely uses the vertical dimensions of this particular ad space to showcase the product in question. It’s likely that Dr. Dabber will end up bidding up on these vertical ad spaces, as they are likely to showcase this product more effectively than a horizontal version of the same ad concept would.
- The design of the ad highlights the bright colors of the pens themselves, appealing to consumers who will appreciate the color choice offered. The ad coloring also helps the CTA button stand out.
- “The New Standard” doesn’t provide much information beyond a vague suggestion of value. Regardless of the fact that Dr. Dabber is already a widely recognized brand, consumers still may wish to know more before they click.
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