Cannabis companies are extremely limited in what language and images they can use in advertising. In order to continue attracting customers, businesses have to devise creative alternative marketing strategies to skirt these laws.
“It’s very difficult,” said Cory Mitchell, operations manager at Flower Power Botanicals. “We face what I would call unfair treatment for how we’re allowed to advertise.”
Colorado’s cannabis advertising laws can create obstacles for cannabis businesses that hinder their ability to reach a target audience. Social media platforms also censor cannabis content, making it difficult for cannabis companies to have a wide reach online.
“We can’t have weed leaves in the photos; we can’t say much other than the name of our dispensary. … It’s just very vague; we kind of walk on eggshells.” -Cory Mitchell, Flower Power Botanicals operations manager
A Colorado law stated that cannabis companies cannot advertise on television or radio without “reliable evidence that no more than 30% of the publication’s readership is reasonably expected to be under the age of 21.” This rule also applied to print and digital media.
Cannabis advertising is censored by social media platforms like Instagram, Snapchat and TikTok. Once the Flower Power Botanicals account was flagged for cannabis on Instagram, the platform continued to keep a close eye on the account, Mitchell said. He also said he attempted to advertise on TikTok, but after putting some funding into it, he was denied and did not receive a refund.
“That’s why I’ve turned the page on digital stuff and (have) gone back to more print and billboards, trying to get the visibility,” Mitchell said.
Cannabis businesses are also restricted in outdoor advertising, although Fort Collins did allow Flower Power Botanicals a simple billboard on Mulberry Street. Flower Power Botanicals also has two banners hanging at the intersection of Lemay Avenue and Duff Drive.
“We can’t have weed leaves in the photos; we can’t say much other than the name of our dispensary,” Mitchell said. “It’s just very vague. We kind of walk on eggshells.”
Advertising agencies also need to keep up on the current advertising laws to ensure their clients are protected.
“We typically use research and best practice for all of our strategies and require our clients to have a licensed attorney have an eye on things for legal purposes,” PufCreativ CEO John Shute wrote in an email to The Collegian. PufCreativ is a cannabis marketing agency serving Denver and the surrounding areas.
These laws and restrictions have led cannabis companies to create marketing strategies that differ from noncannabis businesses. Dispensaries can sponsor community events as well as highways.
“We’re going to look into working with some local breweries and Taste of Fort Collins,” Mitchell said. “We have to work around the laws a little bit and try to partner with other social gatherings and events that allow us to get our name out there.”
The Sponsor a Highway program is popular with dispensaries and has proved an effective way to expand reach without getting in legal trouble. Dispensaries can sponsor a stretch of highway by paying for its maintenance and, in exchange, place their logo on the highway.
Mitchell found that text-blast softwares like springbig have also been effective at communicating with customers, although they have to communicate using specific codes in order to prevent cell phone carriers from recognizing and censoring the texts. Businesses can incur hefty fines from the Federal Communications Commission should they violate carrier policies, Mitchell said.
“We kind of have to reinvent the wheel as far as where and what we’re allowed to do,” Mitchell said.
Reach Lindsay Barker at email@example.com or on Twitter @barkerlindsayj.