By Brett Konen on March 25th, 2020
Digital Ad Compliance Guidelines for Cannabis & CBD Brands
It’s no secret to anyone working in cannabis or CBD that an array of regulations make advertising these products tricky. Luckily, the hardest part of cannabis ad compliance is understanding these regulations in the first place.
In some ways, managing compliance for digital advertising campaigns is more straightforward than managing physical advertisements; in other respects, it brings up its own questions.
The good news is that many digital advertising platforms—particularly in the programmatic space, where ad creative must be approved for use across a variety of outlets—have distilled the range of disparate regional rules into a handful of broadly applicable guidelines.
Better yet, we’ve compiled a complete guide to these best practices for any cannabis and CBD brand looking to advertise digitally. Use the following checklists as reference points, then find additional links to state-specific resources at the end of this article.
Cannabis & CBD Advertising: What’s Allowed?
As of this writing, cannabis is currently legal in 34 states plus Washington, D.C. Of those, 23 allow medical marijuana, while 11 states (and D.C.) allow recreational cannabis use.
The types of advertising allowed depend primarily on your location, so the first place to check for specifics is your state’s page on cannabis rules (or if your state doesn’t have one, the full text of your state’s cannabis law). That said, some states have yet to implement specific regulations on advertising and marketing cannabis, particularly where it’s legal for medical use only.
The location-specific regulations governing cannabis ads make digital advertising a useful alternative to physical options such as billboards: In Washington state, for instance, cannabis signs are forbidden “[w]ithin 1,000 feet of the perimeter of a school ground, playground, recreation center or facility, child care center or facility, public park, library, or game arcade of which admission is not restricted to persons age 21 or older.” Online advertising offers more flexibility; it also offers reporting on whether those viewing the ad are 21 and over.
For CBD advertising, the rules are murky. The 2018 Farm Bill legalized hemp-derived CBD products in the United States, but did not clarify the legality of their sales and marketing—it left those aspects to states to decide. And with digital advertising, it’s not just legislation that governs CBD: Some platforms, including the two largest—Facebook and Google—have policies of rejecting CBD ads. They add to the confusion by enforcing these policies with varying degrees of strictness.
Best Practices for Digital Cannabis Ad Compliance
In general, cannabis advertising regulations include the same major stipulations for ad copy and creative across all regions.
- 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”
In Florida, a state approval process for ad creative also applies. In Alaska, Arkansas, California, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, Ohio, Oregon, and Washington, additional state-specific copy is required in the ad creative.
That said, there is some flexibility in implementation of these guidelines—for instance, in Washington, there are no stipulations on font size or color for the additional copy, meaning it doesn’t have to take up half your ad space.
Where Can I Advertise My Cannabis Brand?
(New Frontier Data/CannaBit)
At PrograMetrix we help our CBD clients advertise through The Trade Desk, a mainstream programmatic ad buying platform that maintains CBD data segments and accepts CBD, hemp, and ancillary ad buys.
We help our cannabis clients advertise through Safe-Reach, a cannabis-specific programmatic platform that offers an industry-leading selection of cannabis-specific data segments and accepts cannabis, CBD, hemp, and ancillary ad buys. Both of these platforms offer a wide variety of ad inventory across display, mobile, native, connected TV, and digital audio channels.
For most programmatic platforms, the approval process is straightforward: You’ll create your ads according to the platform guidelines, submit them for review, and receive approval or else a request for changes. Once your ads have been approved, you’ll be able to set your campaign parameters, including:
- Who should see your advertisements. Ages 21 and over is a given; you can also choose from a vast array of behavioral data segments to target your brand’s ideal customer.
- Where your advertisements will run. Digital ads should be geotargeted to your state unless your products are legal across state lines; they can also be aimed at specific regions down to the zip code.
Both of the above are important to set according to your local laws; ad creative may be taken down if it is shown outside of the appropriate jurisdiction.
For CBD brands, in addition to programmatic, you may be able to run paid social through Facebook and paid search through Google—particularly if your CBD is derived from hemp. These platforms impose restrictions that go beyond the standard best practices for ad creative, and in spite of your best efforts to follow the rules, your ads may still be rejected. In general, ads for hemp-derived CBD topicals are approved, but you may run into trouble if the website you’re driving traffic to goes beyond that product category.
Pro tip: Rather than omitting all mentions of CBD or giving up on these platforms entirely, one workaround is to develop a landing page with a distinct domain (think topicals.yourwebsite.com) and ensure that this page refers to your products using words like “natural plant-based remedies.” If you receive approval from Facebook and Google on this landing page, you can then add links through to your main website for further information and a full browsing experience.
Another workaround: If you choose to run ads through an agency, the ad creative will be uploaded through their account, and may have a better chance of approval assuming they’re an established advertiser on the platform.
Key Elements of a Cannabis Digital Ad
(La La Leaf)
Most digital cannabis and CBD ads call for the same basic elements to be shown across display, mobile, and native channels:
- a concise, compelling headline (up to 25 characters, including spaces);
- body copy expanding on your product or service (up to 90 characters, including spaces);
- a high-resolution image (bright, engaging photos without text work best; for products, generally preference environmental shots over white backgrounds);
- your company logo (separate from the image);
- your landing-page URL (it’s best to match the look and feel of this landing page to the ad creative itself);
- a call to action (CTA);
- tracking pixels (for your ad and landing page).
If you don’t already have in-house capabilities for copy, imagery, and landing page creation, your agency can offer them. If you’re running programmatic ads, your platform will likely also double-check ad creative for compliance prior to upload.
KPIs for CBD & Cannabis Digital Ads
Once you’ve solved for compliance, learning from your results and using the information to make data-based improvements becomes the most important aspect of any cannabis or CBD advertising campaign.
Digital ad tech allows for tracking of a robust selection of sales and marketing data: Though key metrics and reporting dashboards can be customized for individual businesses and campaigns based on their marketing and sales goals, the following will be relevant to many cannabis and CBD advertising efforts.
- Cost per acquisition (CPA) or cost per click (CPC)
- Conversions (may mean purchases for CBD/hemp/ancillary brands) and conversion rate
- Return on ad spend (ROAS)
- Total revenue
- Ad creative performance (with A/B testing)
- Clicks or click-through rate (CTR)
- Keyword performance
- Geographic performance
- Impressions, in-view rate, or video completion rate
- Site traffic (total or by unique visitors)
- Time on site
- Page views
- Bounce rate
- Overall engagement
With programmatic advertising, one of the most interesting elements of the reporting process is reviewing the optimizations made throughout the campaign to improve ad performance. You may not know that your product appeals to Jeep owners in particular, but it may be the case.
The data you gain through your digital advertising campaign then can—and should—inform your marketing and advertising efforts going forward. At the end of the day, the best campaigns don’t just drive clicks—they offer insight that will help you take your business to the next level.
State-Specific Rules for Cannabis Advertising
Find your market below to view the location-specific guidance currently available in your state. Please note that not all cannabis laws offer information on marketing—for those states that link to the full text of their cannabis bills, we recommend using Ctrl + F to search for key terms like marketing and advertisements.
- New Hampshire
- New Jersey
- New Mexico
- New York
- North Dakota
- Rhode Island
- Washington, D.C.
- West Virginia
This blog post is the fourth in a series on digital advertising for cannabis and CBD businesses. Earlier installments include The State of Cannabis & CBD Advertising in 2020, How to Build a Digital Marketing Plan for Cannabis or CBD, and The Ultimate Guide to Programmatic Advertising for Cannabis & CBD. For more on the latest in programmatic advertising, bookmark our blog homepage and check back soon. Want to learn more before anyone else? Get in touch here.
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