One of the major challenges faced by the cannabis industry is limitations on its ability to advertise, due to a combination of state and federal regulations as well as platform-specific rules. Key channels where cannabis brands have had to work around tight restrictions include social media, where the major players have specific rules about the kind of content that can be shared — and in most cases have banned paid content in this category altogether.
However, the first signs that this may be changing have appeared on Twitter, which has loosened its policy regarding cannabis to allow advertisements. The platform still has strict regulations in place — for instance, cannabis advertisers must be licensed by the appropriate authorities and pre-authorized by Twitter itself — but the move represents an important opportunity for players in the space to augment their existing outreach with paid efforts.
“Social in cannabis is pretty much organic, and even that organic presence is heavily augmented compared to how we would prefer to situate ourselves. [That’s] just by the nature of how Meta and Instagram have their rules about not showing the product and not saying particular words,” said Aaron Rivadeneyra, Director of Ecommerce at Kiva Confections in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “We’re not trying to make every post ‘buy this’ and ‘buy that,’ but it does make it difficult for us to tell a really authentic and holistic story right now on social media, so brands and retailers do their best. That’s why I’m excited about Twitter. It might not be the biggest organic social platform, but because it has the ability to layer on paid traffic and paid ads on top of it, it puts a little asterisk next to it as far as whether we should we give it more consideration.”
New Opportunities Assist Push for Mainstream Acceptance
Cannabis has been steadily gaining acceptance as a recreational and medicinal product over the past decade. The substance is legal for recreational use in 21 states and medical in 37 states, and the industry posted sales between $24.5 and $27 billion in 2021, according to data from Retail TouchPoints’ sister publication MJBiz. As more states open up for sales and channels open up for communication, cannabis becomes more accepted, which makes it easier for the industry to continue growing.
“The Twitter news is really great for a few reasons,” said Ashley Fields, SVP of Marketing and Communications at Cann in an interview with Retail TouchPoints. “It shows that cannabis is continuing to make its way onto the mainstream stage and in a way that is more about dialogue and innovation than it has been in the past, where it’s been this war on drugs and the connotation of cannabis has been negative. I think that whether it’s on the news or on Twitter, or the fact that you have more cannabis brands on Meta, you’re seeing that cannabis is coming into mainstream in a way that is brand new. It’s product-forward, versus the scare tactics used previously.”
However, the cannabis industry still faces other hurdles, including its youth and relatively small size. This means brands need to think carefully about how they go about reaching out to and educating shoppers, both in terms of ensuring they adhere to regulations that vary state-by-state and investing their budgets in areas that will have the greatest impact. Paid advertising on social media is just one part of a larger marketing push.
“Our organic strategy is really critical to our success,” said Fields. “And then the bigger question — and this is what I really think about a lot — how do we amplify it? What is the paid strategy on top of that? For something like Twitter, let’s say you take a similar campaign that a liquor company did, where they had a very robust organic and paid strategy that went together. For us, we’re a small team, we have to figure out where we spend our resources right now. Historically, it’s been on Instagram. I think that with this, this Twitter announcement, it does give us a little bit more incentive to build out a more robust organic strategy on Twitter, and then think about the ways to amplify it.”
Cannabis’ Educational Side may Help Shape its Future
Cannabis marketers also have a unique role to play compared to their counterparts in more established industries. Storytelling is an important part of operations, and cannabis brands also need to spend more time educating potential customers than other, more established and accepted recreational options. The good news is that having stronger outreach options can help cannabis drive even more mainstream acceptance.
“It’s not only the stigma associated with cannabis and weed and stoner culture — that’s from the 1970s, so get over it, right?” said Fields. “It’s also educating people that cannabis is no longer like those really scary brownies you had in college, where you didn’t know where you were and you ate everything in your house. That’s not where we are anymore. These are products that are engineered to make you feel better. They come from a plant that grows naturally. There are so many things from an education perspective that I would say to focus on, because right now you’re really just demystifying this world of cannabis.”
Twitter’s actions don’t necessarily mean that other social media platforms will open up to cannabis in the near future — Kiva’s Rivadeneyra noted that the company is “in a very unique situation” that may not parallel other social media giants. However, if brands like Cann and Kiva can make good use of what Twitter has made available, that could be one more step in convincing other companies that cannabis advertising is an area with potential.
“I’m going to make sure that we’re, obviously, using their age restrictions and using their state restrictions and things like that,” said Rivadeneyra. “I really think at least now Meta and everybody else has something to look at when they ask, ‘Should we allow cannabis or not?’ They at least can see how brands like Kiva are engaging with Twitter audiences.”