Cannabis is legal in most of North America, but restrictions on advertising cannabis still exist. The industry works around these limits, but is it enough?
Recently, NBC blocked a Weedmaps commercial from playing during Super Bowl LVI. The commercial looks pretty innocuous, with jokes about how people use “broccoli” as a euphemism for cannabis. Still, NBC didn’t want this airing on their platform. This decision seems odd considering the NFL’s newfound stance of players using weed, but given past restrictions on cannabis advertising, it isn’t too surprising. For example, CBS made a similar move three years ago when they blocked a commercial supporting legal medical cannabis during Super Bowl LIII.
Why Advertising Cannabis Remains Difficult
These decisions reflect stringent limitations placed upon cannabis advertising. It varies state by state, but cannabis ads can’t target audience members under the age of 21. So, if the platform has a large enough demographic under this age, then cannabis companies cannot advertise their products. Here in Canada, where the government has legalized weed at a federal level, similar restrictions are in place. You simply cannot advertise on any platform where someone under 18 can see it.
The internet is not a very hospitable place for advertising either. Most major social media platforms, along with Google, forbid cannabis advertising or apps that promote cannabis. Platforms like Facebook also ban outright promotions on social media pages, but you can get away with it if you’re subtle. Apple is really the only one of the major tech companies that has loosened restrictions somewhat. Back in 2021, they changed the policies for their Appstore to allow cannabis companies to post their own apps.
How the Cannabis Industry Works Around Censors and Restrictions
The restrictions around advertising cannabis are understandable, to an extent. Similar limitations exist for the alcohol industry, and studies have found that advertising has a profound effect on teens. Yet, as the industry tries to make a name for itself, these limitations definitely hamper its growth.
Thankfully, the industry still has its ways to reach customers. Technological advancements allow companies to easily locate platforms that can host them without violating any laws or restrictions. For example, programmatic advertising streamlines the advertising process significantly. Basically, programmatic advertising automatically searches cannabis-friendly platforms for companies to advertise on. It might not be mainstream TV or major social media sites, but it does allow the companies to reliably promote their goods without getting into trouble.
And for now, the strategy seems to be working. The cannabis industry has managed to grow, even amidst COVID restrictions, and demand doesn’t look like it will be slowing down anytime soon.