By Brett Konen on October 14th, 2020
Report: Cannabis & CBD Digital Advertising Trends in 2020
This year at PrograMetrix, we compiled the largest existing collection of cannabis, CBD, and ancillary ad examples from around the web. Recently, we randomly selected a sample of 100 display ad examples among them to review for a detailed look at current CBD and cannabis digital advertising trends. After completing our analysis, we created this SlideShare to share what we learned.
In the following post, we’ll go into greater detail on the statistics we uncovered as we discuss which cannabis and CBD industry brands are running display ads in 2020, how they’re positioning their brands, what visual and textual elements are currently most prevalent, what offers are being made to entice purchasers, and what calls-to-action are most commonly used to drive clicks and ultimately conversions.
Cannabis & CBD Digital Advertising: Who Is Running Ads?
Of the 100 display ad examples we reviewed for this report, 60% of them were from CBD or hemp brands. These included producers of CBD oils, topicals, capsules, tinctures, edibles, inhalers, hemp flower, and pet products.
While nearly a quarter of the ads in this category featured multiple types of CBD products in the advertisement, the other three-quarters focused their ad on one primary product. While the pie charts below show the proportion of each specific product type within each vertical, we can more broadly categorize the data as follows:
- Ingestibles (oils, tinctures, capsules, and edibles): 53% of CBD ads
- Multiple products (generally including oils, tinctures, edibles, and/or topicals): 23% of CBD ads
- Topicals (including balms and creams): 15% of CBD ads
- Inhalables (including flower and inhalers): 7% of CBD ads
- Pet products: 2% of CBD ads
Ancillary brands represented 26% of the display ads we reviewed for this study. This category included advertisements for cannabis conferences, webinars, financing, marketing and business services, vaporizers, dab rigs, glass, rolling papers, and an eBook. Within the category, three broad ad types emerged:
- Cannabis consumption accessories (including vapes, dabbing equipment, smoking paraphernalia, and online headshops): 62% of ancillary ads
- Industry services (including B2B and B2C services, job sites, and investment opportunities): 31% of ancillary ads
- Information (including events and eBooks): 8% of ancillary ads
Finally, plant-touching cannabis brands represented 14% of the display ads in our study. The primary products and services represented were cannabis flower, concentrates, retailers (i.e. dispensaries or online ordering platforms), and seeds. Broadly, this category was distributed as follows:
- Consumable cannabis (including flower and concentrates): 64% of cannabis ads
- Cannabis brands or retailers (including producers and dispensaries): 29% of cannabis ads
- Products for cannabis growers (in this case, seeds): 7% of cannabis ads
What Are Cannabis Display Ads Focusing On?
When we onboard a new client for a display advertising campaign, we generally recommend that they start by A/B testing two ad types: One that focuses on a specific product or category from their offering, and one that focuses more generally on their brand. Though this recommendation may vary depending on the specific goals of the campaign, in some cases overall branding is what draws an audience in, while in others the audience is looking for product benefits to fit a specific use case.
In our review, we found it informative to step back and consider the overall focus of the display ads in our study, rather than just the specific products they advertised. Of our 100 ads, we deemed 60% of the ads product-focused, 31% brand-focused, and 9% focused on something else. More specifically, the ads focused on:
- A single product: 35%
- A general brand: 31%
- Multiple products: 25%
- Service offerings: 6%
- Events or information: 3%
Common Themes in Cannabis & CBD Ad Copy
Among the ads we reviewed, nearly two thirds (64%) of brands included cannabis- or CBD-specific wording in the ad copy, while one third (36%) of brands did not include copy that specified the exact nature of the product or products being advertised. This is likely due to the fact that some platforms (such as Google) will not approve (or have not approved in the past) ads that use cannabis or CBD terminology. However, CBD brands are currently able to use CBD and hemp wording in display and other ads run through programmatic advertising platforms. Cannabis brands are able to do the same through cannabis-specific programmatic advertising platforms.
We found that the word “CBD” was featured in 46% of the ads we reviewed; “cannabis” was included in 8% of ads; “hemp” was included in 8% of ads; and “weed” was included in 2% of ads. (Note that these statistics did not consider whether the brand name or logo included cannabis- or CBD-specific terminology.)
We also looked at the most-used words overall in cannabis industry display ad copy. Removing brand names, dates, numbers, and coupon codes from the data, the top 10 most used words in cannabis and CBD display ads are:
- CBD (73 uses)
- Shop (44 uses)
- Now (38 uses)
- Cannabis (13 uses)
- Get (12 uses)
- New (12 uses)
- Code (11 uses)
- Products (10 uses)
- Use (10 uses)
- Premium (9 uses) / Sale (9 uses)
We recommend that cannabis and CBD marketers review this list when creating their own ad copy, because understanding what words are used most commonly in other ads in your industry can help your advertisements not sound the same as all the others.
It was also interesting to understand which brands were using disclaimer copy in their advertisements. Cannabis brands are generally required to include disclaimer copy in their ad creative, while no overarching marketing regulation requires this of CBD or ancillary brands. That said, many brands in the latter categories did include a disclaimer statement, and some in the cannabis category did not. Overall, 18% of the ads we reviewed included some form of disclaimer copy, which ranged from the cursory “not for sale to minors” to complete multi-sentence statements in fine print as required by the brand’s home state.
Unique Value Propositions Used in CBD & Cannabis Marketing
Next, we reviewed top selling points highlighted in brands’ display ad copy. It should be noted that the following categories were not mutually exclusive, and several brands used multiple selling points in their ad copy, sometimes leveraging call-outs or badges to note additional benefits.
The top eight selling points, all of which were referenced by at least three brands, included:
- “Free”: 7% of ads
- "Natural": 7% of ads
- "Full-spectrum": 6% of ads
- “New”: 6% of ads
- “Sale”: 6% of ads
- “Lab-tested” or “third-party tested”: 4% of ads
- "Organic": 3% of ads
- "Vegan": 3% of ads
Additional selling points used in CBD or cannabis ad copy include “additive-free,” “bioaccessible,” “cruelty-free,” “discreet,” “includes” (e.g., a carrying case), “made in the USA,” “money-back guarantee,” “paraben-free,” “potent,” “pure,” “sugar-free,” and “wellness.” Additional ingredients (for instance, menthol or turmeric in CBD oils or tinctures) were also referenced as selling points by multiple brands.
Main Photo & Image Styles Used in Cannabis Ads
Product photography dominated for cannabis, CBD, and ancillary display ads—more than three-quarters (77%) of brands used photos of their products to illustrate their ads. Nearly a quarter (23%) used product photography against a designed or patterned background; another 20% featured their product on a solid background of color; 18% featured their product on plain black or white; and 16% featured their product in use or surrounded by environmental elements (e.g. on a coffee table).
Lifestyle photography was used in 12% of ads: These shots generally focused on a mood or activity the brand wanted to evoke or associate itself with, and included images such as a woman in a hammock or a man on a golf course. In a majority of these ads a small product shot (for instance, a CBD tincture bottle) was also overlaid in a corner, but this was not the primary visual focus of the ad, and in 42% of ads featuring lifestyle photos, no product was shown in any way.
The remaining 11% of ads featured text only: As with product shots, a patterned or designed background was the most common accompaniment, present in 64% of text-based ads, while the other 36% were set on a plain color or white background.
Can Brands Show Cannabis Plants in Their Ad Creative?
While most mainstream digital advertising platforms will not currently accept ad creative featuring cannabis plants, flower, or leaf iconography, many cannabis-specific ad platforms and networks will approve these ads, and 10% of the ads we reviewed included the cannabis plant in some way. The majority (7%) of these clearly depicted cannabis flower or plant elements, while 3% clearly alluded to the plant (e.g. by featuring a bowl of ground herb packed in a vaporizer).
Static vs. GIF Display Ads: Which Are Most Popular?
The final imagery variable we reviewed in this report was the use of .gif formats in ad creative. Because they feature an element of movement reminiscent of a short video loop, these formats are useful for drawing the viewer's attention to the ad and fitting more information into the given banner’s dimensions.
Of the ads we reviewed, 8% were in a .gif format: Creative use of .gif imagery included panning to fit an image of a large bong into a horizontal banner ad.
Choosing a Promotion for Cannabis & CBD Marketing Campaigns
In reviewing the discounts offered by cannabis, CBD, and ancillary brands, 31% of advertisers offered a discount while 69% did not.
The discount offered by those who chose to feature a percentage-based promotion (as 30 of the 31 advertisers did, with one exception offering a fixed price-based discount) followed a modified bell curve distribution, peaking at 15% and reaching zero past 70%. The discounts offered were as follow:
- 10% discount: 6% of all advertisers
- 15% discount: 8% of all advertisers
- 20% discount: 6% of all advertisers
- 25% discount: 3% of all advertisers
- 30% discount: 3% of all advertisers
- 35% discount: 2% of all advertisers
- 50% discount: 1% of all advertisers
- 70% discount: 1% of all advertisers
Broadly, two-thirds (67%) of businesses offered a discount of between 10 and 20%, while only 33% of brands offered a discount of 25% or more.
Use of Coupon Codes in Display Ads
Of the brands that did offer a discount in their ads, there was nearly an even split between those offering coupon codes and those that did not require them: 48% of promotions included a code, while 52% did not.
When are clients are deciding whether or not to offer a discount as part of their advertising campaigns, we have generally seen that discounts lead to higher conversion rates for display advertising. That said, it is most important to consider what fits with your own brand and business priorities. Your profit margins may not lend themselves to discounted pricing, or your brand may purposely be positioning itself at a premium price point, in which case a discount could do more harm than good.
Similarly, if you do decide to offer a discount and are considering whether to include a coupon code, we recommend choosing whatever works best for your team: If a coupon code helps you keep track of revenue generated through the promotion, we recommend it, but if it’s more of a hassle than helpful, we recommend skipping the code.
Most Common Calls-to-Action in Cannabis Advertising
The final element of ad creative we considered in reviewing our display ad set with the inclusion of a call-to-action, or CTA. Digital advertising best practices (and our own internal data) suggest that a clearly visible CTA button increases ad click-through and conversion rates: Unfortunately, a full 20% of the advertising creative we reviewed included no CTA.
Of the 80% that did, the most common CTA preference was a “Shop Now” button: This CTA was used by 37 brands, and another 15 used some other form of “Shop” button (e.g. “Shop Dab Deals,” “Shop CBD Tinctures”), meaning that 65% of all CTAs called for a shopping action to be taken by the viewer. “Learn” CTAs made up an additional 8% of the buttons, while “Buy” and “Order” calls-to-action each made up 5% of CTAs.
Other action words—including “register,” “take,” “find,” “get,” “grow,” “join,” and “try”—made up most of the remaining 17% of CTAs, while one button used only an arrow icon, with no copy included.
We recommend that brands choosing a call-to-action take their viewers as far as possible down the sales funnel with the CTA they choose. For most CBD brands and ancillary brands able to sell products on their websites, a Shop Now button is generally most effective. For cannabis brands and retailers, wherever possible we recommend taking the viewer to a place where they can order products online, even if this means driving traffic to your online menu services (e.g. Dutchie or Jane) rather than to your own website. For brands with no online ordering capabilities as well as service and information providers, Learn More is effective and widely used.
Notes on Methodology
As noted above, for this study we randomly selected 100 display ad examples to review. Some were created by our agency, others were created by our clients, but most were from brands we have no affiliation with. The ads featured in this study were all running digitally at some point in 2020, and were collected via screenshot from cannabis and mainstream websites around the web over the course of several months. A wide variety of standard display ad banner sizes were represented in the sample, including 970x250, 728x90, 300x250, 300x600, and 160x600 examples.
Some ads were running programmatically, others through cannabis-specific ad networks such as Safe-Reach, others through mainstream advertising platforms such as Google Ads, and a few through ad deals with specific sites. In some cases multiple ad concepts by the same brand were included in our review, but only where the ads represented completely different creative concepts, and not in cases where the ad was simply a differently-sized or -structured version of the same basic ad.
It should be noted that the statistics collected above do not necessarily represent best practices for cannabis or CBD digital advertising: In fact, some examples would not have been approved for use on other websites due to their inclusion of cannabis imagery, lack of disclaimer copy, or other issues. This data merely represents what is currently most common in the industry, and we hope that industry marketers will use it to understand what is currently being done, and then—as should always be the case—continually strive do it better.
For more information on this study or data, please feel free to get in touch.
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