By Brett Konen on July 29th, 2020
The PrograMetrix Guide to Native Ads for Cannabis & CBD
As a rule, modern consumers tend to skim past the most obvious ads: This is why widely-used formats like display advertising often require more impressions to yield a certain amount of conversions. By contrast, native advertising blends into the content surrounding it on the platform where it appears, reducing consumers’ resistance to its messaging and increasing the likelihood of engagement and conversion.
There are many forms of native advertising, and whether you’re promoting cannabis, CBD, or hemp products, it’s easy to get started with these types of ads. Here’s what native advertising is, what it works best for, and why you should run native ads as part of your CBD or cannabis advertising strategy.
What Are Native Ads?
According to the IAB, “Native advertising [aspires] to deliver paid ads that are so cohesive with the page content, assimilated into the design, and consistent with the platform behavior that the viewer feels the ads belong there.”
Whether they take the form of paid social posts, search engine results, branded content, recommended stories, or in-feed website units on mobile or desktop, these ads blend in with everything else on the page to the point that viewers may not even immediately recognize the ad as such. While early critics considered native ads misleading, today’s regulations ensure that these ads are appropriately labeled, and modern consumers have become more used to seeing sponsored posts and other forms of native advertising in their organic feeds as this channel has grown and evolved.
Native ads can take a wider variety of forms than most other channels: They may be similar to classic display or mobile units, but often show up as social posts, search result listings, videos, text articles, and more. Basic native ads for cannabis or CBD require the following elements to run across a wide variety of websites:
- High-resolution image
- Headline (native ad provider TripleLift supports up to 25 characters, including spaces)
- Body copy (TripleLift supports up to 90 characters, including spaces)
- Call to action, or CTA (about 15 characters, including spaces)
- Link to your landing page
Many major websites can run native ads: According to WordStream, three-quarters of publishers offer some form of native advertising on their sites, but only 41% of brands are leveraging native. Sites where we’ve helped clients place in-feed native ads include Forbes, The Washington Post, The Seattle Times, Men’s Health, The New York Post, and more.
Unlike display ads, native ads do not require a professional designer to create, which makes them a great format for cannabis and CBD brands to start with. These ads will show up slightly differently on different websites in order to blend into the surrounding content: To view examples of several native ad styles as they appear on a variety of major websites, check out TripleLift's preview gallery.
When running native ads, it’s best for cannabis and CBD brands to create two or more ad concepts at once, which can then be A/B tested to determine which version most resonates with its audience. In general we recommend that CBD and hemp companies, particularly e-retailers, start by testing one brand-focused ad and one product-focused ad, while cannabis brands unable to sell products on their site may wish to focus their second ad concept on their retail space, upcoming events, or even amplification of press coverage.
How to Run Native Ads for CBD or Cannabis
Both cannabis and CBD brands can run legally compliant native ads as part of their digital advertising campaigns: Most CBD brands can use mainstream programmatic technology to do so, while most cannabis brands will use cannabis-specific programmatic technology. For both cannabis and CBD, compliance with local regulations is ensured by using programmatic targeting capabilities to reach viewers 21 and over where the products and ads in question are legal.
Cannabis brands, including multi-state operators, generally show their ads to viewers within certain states’ boundaries to ensure compliance and relevance, and many local businesses (such as dispensaries) may want to narrow their targeting even further to focus on a specific city or region. CBD brands with products legal in all 50 states may choose to show their ads more widely and freely across state lines: That said, in order to pre-optimize a CBD ecommerce campaign, we recommend that companies review their Google Analytics and other existing digital data, allowing their campaign manager to bid up on the states where they have seen the most conversions in the past, and bid down on the lowest-performing states. See our case study for an example of a CBD ecommerce campaign that successfully used this tactic with native ads.
While cannabis marketing and advertising regulations vary from state to state, they can be boiled down to a few broadly applicable guidelines that apply to native ads as well as display, mobile, video, and other formats:
- 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”
Cannabis brands in Alaska, Arkansas, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington are also required to include state-specific disclaimer copy in their ad creative. Additionally, cannabis business in Florida will need to submit their ad creative for review through a state-specific approval process prior to launch. For a complete list of state-by-state cannabis advertising information, check out our compliance guidelines for cannabis and CBD digital ads.
What Are Native Ads Best At?
Native advertising excels at driving audience engagement: According to Outbrain, “consumers look at native ads 53% more than display ads. Native ads create an 18% increase in purchase intent, and the visual engagement with native ads is the same, and even slightly higher, than the original editorial content.” While more traditional and widely used forms of advertising lead to ad fatigue or “banner blindness,” which causes certain viewers to ignore these ads entirely, native advertising feels and functions like the content it’s surrounded by—and when a consumer is on that website or platform, they’re there because they want to engage with that content.
CBD and cannabis advertisers gain an additional benefit from native advertising on mainstream websites: When a cannabis ad is surrounded by high-quality non-cannabis content, the historical stigma of the products being advertised is reduced by association. While brands in the cannabis industry were relegated for many years to advertising on sites like High Times, today an ad surrounded by non-cannabis content makes some customers more comfortable with clicking on it or otherwise taking action. When The Bakeréé’s dispensary advertisements appeared on HuffPost, for example, new customers began coming in and remarking that they’d “never seen a cannabis ad on The Huffington Post before.”
While native ads have many strengths and have become increasingly popular over the last decade, it should be noted that this format isn’t always the strongest for building brand awareness, because the brand in question is only subtly mentioned. In general, cannabis and CBD business owners should diversify their digital advertising campaigns with several formats at once, using native as one part of a larger strategy that covers all stages of the purchasing funnel.
We generally suggest that most new CBD and cannabis advertisers start with a combination of display, mobile, and native advertising; for brands with larger budgets and more ambitious marketing goals, we also recommend creating video and audio ads to build an even more robust omnichannel strategy.
To reap the benefits of native advertising, it’s important to note that consumers expect native ads to provide value, just as they expect the same of the non-ad content that surrounds these ads. While all ads should provide value, this is perhaps truer of native than any other channel.
To understand which native ad formats may work best for your brand, check out the following overview of common native ad types.
5 Types of Native Ads for Cannabis or CBD
In-Feed or In-Content Native Ads
The three main places where you’ll find in-feed native ads are content feeds (e.g. articles on a blog or digital news site), product feeds (e.g. on an ecommerce site like Amazon), and social feeds (e.g. on a social media network like Twitter). Additionally, the same sorts of ads may appear within the content in question (e.g. where a related story might otherwise be within a news article). They can run on desktop or mobile, and will look slightly different in each location. These formats can also go far beyond a simple image, involving .gifs, videos, carousels, or interactive elements depending on the media you submit.
Paid Social Ads
While the IAB includes paid social media ads in the larger category of in-feed advertising above, we’ve separated it out here due to the fact that key platforms (primarily Facebook and Instagram) do not allow cannabis advertising, and reject many CBD ads as well. While paid social ads are primarily available to hemp-specific companies and a few other lucky CBD brands (more info on CBD social ad approval here), native in-feed advertising on other mainstream sites as noted above is more widely available to cannabis and CBD business owners alike.
Sponsored or Branded Content
This type of native ad requires more effort to create than standard in-feed ads; generally brands work directly with the content team at the outlet in question (mainstream and endemic sites may both be options for cannabis or CBD sponsored content; each platform will have its own policy) to develop an article that will appeal to the platform’s audience while also reflecting positively on the brand. Successful sponsored content results in an article that the target audience would be eager to read whether it was paid for or not; unsuccessful sponsored content is often the result of a brand pushing too hard for a promotional piece, which invariably falls flat with readers and results in wasted ad spend.
Content Recommendation Ads
These native ad slots tend to appear alongside or at the bottom of a piece of content, typically marked by titles like “Content from around the web” or “Suggestions from our partners.” While these ad units generally appear similar to recommended article widgets from the current platform, they lead to stories on other sites, and may be used to promote press coverage or blog posts for greater reach.
Paid Search Ads
While the IAB gives search ads their own category separate from native, they are a form of native advertising, with ad results looking almost identical to organic search results in Google and other engines. While Google Ads currently only supports the use of hemp-related keywords in search advertising, CBD brands often choose to replace “CBD” with hemp terminology in order to advertise on Google. Check out our guide to CBD search ad approval to learn more.
Need help taking your native CBD or cannabis ad campaigns to the next level? Get in touch here.