It’s no secret that advertising channels including Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Amazon, and Google do not allow brands to promote any form of ingestible hemp or marijuana, forcing companies to find other ways to advertise and generate interest in their offerings. What is often mysterious to those most impacted by these restrictions, such as hemp start-ups, is why some brands seem to slip through mysterious loopholes while others find themselves banned.
Facebook has done some waffling on the issue, allowing some ads for topical hemp that direct to landing pages featuring ingestible forms of CBD. Facebook claims “sole discretion” in determining what constitutes advertising or paid promotion of ingestible hemp, leading many businesses to have their accounts deleted without fully understanding why. The action is typically a result of a violation of Facebook’s “Community Standards”, which forbid paid distribution of ads related to CBD (which Facebook classifies similarly to drugs or alcohol). There are instances, as was the case with Cannaramic promoter Felicia Palmer (profiled by The Verge), whose ad account was disabled entirely even though she was not paying for distribution of her posts about CBD.
Instagram, owned by Facebook, is reportedly somewhat more lax. Users are not penalized as often when advertising CBD products for internal use. With Instagram and Twitter, there is still a risk of having an account permanently shut down if there is an attempt to sell products. According to a Digiday article published in June 2019, Google has begun experimenting with allowing ads for topical products as long as they don’t explicitly state that they contain CBD. Users still complain that some ads clearly promoting ingestibles get featured while others do not, to which Google Support’s primary response seems to be “we can’t check all ads all the time”. If a company chooses to run a Google AdWords advertisement promoting CBD and gets caught, it runs the risk of being prevented from future advertisements whether they are related to CBD or not.
Advertisers are finding ways to circumvent these systems with the help of various marketing experts. Focusing social media posts on education (i.e. “content marketing”) is one such strategy, as is being careful not to use words that are commonly flagged. Ecommerce platform BigCommerce suggests focusing on SEO (search engine optimization), or even hiring an SEO expert. A professional can ensure that keywords (which would be considered marketing and advertising materials in the event of an FDA or FTC investigation) do not go against FDA or FTC guidelines such as those pertaining to health and medical claims.
Events, sponsorships, cross-promotion, storytelling (e.g. Charlotte’s Web’s epilepsy narrative), e-newsletters, local and national TV ads, and influencer endorsements are also strategies that the industry’s marketing professionals recommend. They encourage hemp entrepreneurs not to be forestalled by the limitations of social marketing. Despite the fact that, according to eMarketer, Facebook and Google accounted for 57 percent of the U.S. digital ad market as of 2018, emphasizing quality, verifiability, and price point can help producers come out ahead.