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The Ins-and-Outs of Cannabis and CBD Marketing

A CBD Choice billboard shines bright on a dark street

The world of CBD and other cannabis-derived products is changing rapidly. In the wake of new clinical research and revised laws, cannabis is gaining widespread acceptance, and more and more are realizing the potential that cannabis has to improve our health and shared world. But some things stay the same: CBD marketing is tricky, as the industry still has some significant restrictions placed upon it.

Today we’ll be doing a deep-dive into some of the most important rules and regulations for CBD marketing, CBD businesses, and hemp products as a whole. Whether you’re an industry professional, an enthusiast looking to break into influencer marketing, or a fledgling brand looking to develop its CBD marketing strategy, this article will deliver what you need to know to avoid running afoul of cannabis industry rules and regulations.

We’ll start out with an overview of the cultural moment, the changing outlook on cannabis, and the difficulties the cannabis industry faces breaking into traditional advertising. From there, we’ll give a breakdown of the formal rules and regulations on CBD marketing with all relevant restrictions that CBD brands need to look out for.

Cultural Climate for the Cannabis Industry

CBD oils and other hemp-derived products effectively became legal with the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. Prior to that, hemp and marijuana were lumped into the same legal category: the dreaded Schedule 1 classification, which inexplicably placed cannabis in the same category as LSD, heroin, and ecstasy. Given that Schedule 1 classification, it’s unsurprising that advertisements for cannabis products were effectively non-existent prior to the Farm Bill.

Now, however, marijuana, hemp, and CBD marketing operate in something of a legal gray area. While there is no formal rule banning cannabis-related advertising (especially in states where marijuana has been decriminalized or legalized), lingering social stigma means that it’s difficult to advertise market marijuana and hemp products through traditional channels.

Marijuana and CBD Marketing at the 2019 Super Bowl: a Case Study

The 2019 Super Bowl offers an excellent example of the difficulties that cannabis and CBD marketing faces in today’s cultural climate.

The cannabis community was outraged when CBS rejected an advertisement for medical marijuana. While there is no legal prohibition on such television advertisements, the rejection is nonetheless unsurprising. Marijuana remains a Schedule 1 restricted substance under federal law, despite many states voting to decriminalize and legalize either medical or recreational use.

Though unsurprising, the rejection does clarify the current state of cannabis advertising. While it is technically legal, lingering social stigma makes it difficult for marijuana and hemp products to access traditional advertising venues.

But cannabis advertisements were present at the 2019 Super Bowl ⁠— just not in the televised commercials. Super Bowl attendees were treated to the first ever Super Bowl CBD ad, which was delivered to users’ mobile devices while they attended the game. It’s impossible to say whether CBS would have approved televised CBD marketing, but the mobile ad nonetheless indicates a growing social acceptance.

Our takeaway from the 2019 Super Bowl is clear: the cannabis industry faces challenges when it comes to traditional advertising, but the culture is shifting towards acceptance. Moreover, it shows that the cannabis industry may be forced to pursue new means of advertising their marijuana and hemp products. 

Rules and Regulations on CBD Marketing: What CBD Brands Need to Know for Advertising CBD

As discussed above, the cannabis industry is at an interesting juncture. While marijuana is still largely cut-off from traditional advertisements, CBD marketing is increasingly accepted and widespread. Still, restrictions remain at the level of both legal and private policy.

Where Can CBD be Advertised?

Rules and regulations on CBD marketing vary widely from platform to platform. Here is a rundown of the most common advertising venues and the rules in place for each.

CBD Marketing on Television and Radio
In most areas of the United States, advertising CBD brands in traditional television advertisements is legal. Nonetheless, most stations refuse to run promotions for CBD brands due to CBD’s murky status under current FDA regulations..

Radio advertisements for CBD products are typically met with much the same resistance. The debate over allowing CBD radio advertisement is raging, but brands have so far met with little success.

Nonetheless, we are starting to see a handful of CBD marketing campaigns successfully aired on television and radio. As this trend continues, the cannabis industry will no doubt have greater access to traditional media. For now, however, CBD brands should expect to meet with resistance.

CBD Marketing in the Digital Age: Social Media and Influencer Marketing

Because traditional advertising venues are still largely inaccessible, many CBD brands turn to social media to build a wider audience. While sites like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter allow for CBD marketing in new and innovative ways, each platform has its own restrictions for the type of CBD content they’ll allow.

  • Facebook
      • Facebook’s advertising policy does not explicitly ban CBD marketing, but they have imposed an informal ban on CBD advertisements
      • In June 2019, Facebook announced a revision to its informal policy: CBD topicals may now be advertised on their platform, but marketing for ingestible CBD is still prohibited
      • CBD marketing on Facebook may link to landing pages that sell ingestible CBD, but the marketing materials themselves cannot mention ingestible CBD
  • Twitter
      • Twitter bans formal CBD marketing on their platform, at least when it comes to paid advertisements
      • CBD brands can market their products on Twitter through their individual posts. Brands may post announcements and news about their products, and may even include links to products and converting pages on their own site
      • However, CBD brands may not include health or disease claims, lest they risk their Twitter account being banned
  • Instagram
    • Instagram formally bans all forms of CBD marketing on its platform, but enforcement is somewhat laxer than on Twitter
    • While formal promotions are banned, informal CBD marketing is entirely possible and, in fact, widespread on Instagram. By partnering with popular users and leveraging anecdotal accounts, many CBD brands have found great success through influencer marketing
    • However, CBD brands may not include health or disease claims, direct promotions, or other more traditional advertising methods, lest their Instagram accounts be revoked

Legal Rules and Regulations on CBD Marketing

Regardless of the advertising platform, CBD marketing is bound by several significant legal restrictions. Most of these pertain to the effects and treatment potential of CBD. Despite a growing wealth of research into CBD’s beneficial effects for pain management, mental health, and disorders such as epilepsy, the FDA imposes significant restrictions on claims that CBD brands can make.

The most important legal rules and regulations on CBD marketing are as follows:

  • Do not make claims based on “Untested Assumptions”
    While CBD brands can discuss the potential effects of CBD use, all such claims must be based on established clinical research. Any and all such discussion must be backed by reputable research, and citations to said research must be provided whenever reference is made to CBD’s beneficial effects. Claims must always be creditable, substantiated, and backed by good research.

    Notably, this applies not only to a CBD brand’s own materials, but also to reviews, user testimonials, and any other form of “client-facing” materials on the brand’s site.
  • Avoid making health and medical claims
    CBD marketing cannot make any claims about CBD’s potential to treat specific diseases or other conditions.

    According to an official FDA statement, “Deceptive marketing of unproven treatments raises significant public health concerns, as it may keep some patients from accessing appropriate, recognized therapies to treat serious and even fatal diseases.”

    This restriction expands on the “Untested Assumptions” claim. Even when backed by credible, substantiated research, CBD brands may not advertise their products for the treatment of specific conditions.

    The only “exception” to this policy is with regard to FDA-approved treatment tools. For instance, Epidiolex is an FDA-approved, CBD-based drug for the treatment of several rare forms of epilepsy. CBD brands may refer to such treatment options but are prohibited from claiming that their products offer the same benefits.
  • CBD marketing must comply with all other FDA regulations
    Something of a catch-all for other CBD marketing practices, this restriction can be broadly read to prohibit any number of advertising strategies that the law has not explicitly banned.

    According to the FDA, all CBD products and marketing materials must comply with FDA regulations and all relevant state and federal laws.

    While the implications of this policy are somewhat unclear, several takeaways can be extracted. CBD products may not be marketed as dietary supplements. Similarly, CBD may not be added to an FDA-approved product or used as a “food additive”.

    This policy, again, leaves much room for interpretation. Luckily for CBD manufacturers, enforcement of this policy has been permissive. Nonetheless, CBD marketing should be careful in the way it represents its products, as this policy gives the FDA broad leeway for punitive enforcement.

The Bottom Line for Cannabis and CBD Marketing: Heavy Restrictions, but a Shift Towards Acceptance

While the cannabis industry still faces many challenges when it comes to advertising, the cultural climate is rapidly shifting towards widespread acceptance. As cannabis laws continue to shift at the state and federal levels, the lingering stigma will undoubtedly diminish, making it easier and easier for cannabis and CBD marketing to become mainstream.

In the meantime, however, CBD brands must be extraordinarily careful in the claims that they make. Moreover, CBD marketing is likely to be met with significant resistance from traditional advertising channels, even when such marketing is fully compliant with relevant FDA regulations.

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