Bridging the Gap

Top 3 Marketing Obstacles for Canadian Cannabis-Based Businesses

June 11, 2020

In fact, most cannabis-based businesses are still trying to understand the complicated regulations. Finding clarity and consistency has been a challenge to say the least, and a substantial obstacle to business growth for most.

Let’s have a closer look at the 3 key obstacles that continue to impact cannabis craft growers, accessory shops and cannabis retailers:

The Cannabis Act Promotion Prohibitions

Bill C-45 (The Cannabis Act) isn’t just about legalization, it’s a regulatory framework that controls the production, distribution, sale and possession of cannabis, cannabis accessories, and services related to cannabis. The Cannabis Act Promotion Prohibitions, however, takes a strict public safety approach focused on protecting young people and keeping the illegal market at bay. In its rigid approach however, it causes legitimate businesses to endure unprecedented hardships.

Some of the key takeaways of the legislation from a marketing standpoint include prohibitions around:

  • Communicating information about the price or distribution of cannabis or related products
  • Promoting anything that is associated with a way of life such as one that includes glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring
  • Using any promotion or advertising that could in any way be appealing to young persons
  • Creating the impression that health or cosmetic benefits may be derived from the service or the use of the cannabis or the cannabis accessory
  • Using testimonials, endorsements or sponsoring a person, activity or event

Paid Advertising Prohibitions

It’s illegal for anyone in the Canadian cannabis industry to promote their products on TV, radio, wider print media (such as newspapers and magazines that children under 18 may have access to) or on billboards. As a result, people may presume that that social media and internet advertising would be a worthwhile option. Unfortunately, that’s not the case. Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and even Google Ads actively block cannabis advertising on their platforms.

When it comes to social media activity, there are also strict (albeit inconsistent and vague) rules around cannabis promotion, even Canada where it is legal. Many law-abiding business owners have had their social media accounts suspended or permanently cancelled. Each time it happens, they must start from scratch to rebuild their followers and try to mitigate the damage done.

As licenced business owners who follow the advertising regulations (despite the negative impact on sales), it can be exasperating to watch the unofficial (grey) market flourish.

Simply put, mainstream advertising and social media strategies aren’t available to this industry.

Cultural Limitations

Cannabis was legalized in Canada back in 2018, yet the stigma attached to it remains strong. Compare it to attitudes around alcohol consumption, and there is a considerable disconnect. Drinking is portrayed as fun, sophisticated and always in style. People drink – and social standards dictate that it’s OK.

Because marijuana was illegal for so long (and poorly represented on TV and other media), the prevailing association with it typically involves hippies, stoners or criminals. Our current restrictions arounda cannabis messaging doesn’t help to change the negative imagery that people have, meaning it will take time for the stigma to lift. While it may be decriminalized, it is certainly nowhere near being normalized. Although there is intense interest, there is limited dialogue, trust and information around its use, benefits and enjoyment.

The barriers that cannabis businesses face boil down to unclear guidelines, few success stories and cultural stigmas. Any movement forward is slow, but promising. What’s needed is improved policies that look to support the sustainability of the industry while protecting public health. Not only will this help to supress the illegal market, it will allow room for more open discussions and education on cannabis in general.

As marketers, we welcome challenge. Despite the current legislative restrictions on cannabis advertising, we are learning how to navigate around the muddied rules and help our clients get closer to success. We are branding, blogging, building communities and designing websites that reach a broader, more enlightened audience. Talk to our team at Cannab Agency; we craft clever solutions and we’re here to ignite your brand story.

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