A difficult, weird and fake world of cannabis advertising…
Cannabis is becoming more legal, or at least decriminalized, around the world by the day, with more and more countries changing their outdated cannabis laws that are prohibiting its use. But cannabis companies still face huge difficulties when it comes to marketing their products.
In an industry that is still in a process of establishing itself after centuries of rich history, recovering from the effects of prohibition, some companies are fishing in the musky waters of still, uncoordinated or unregulated markets.
Standard marketing channels are unavailable and old rules don’t apply
Standard options like newspaper, radio and TV ads, in a lot of cases, refuse to run their marketing campaigns, sometimes for acceptable or, at least, understandable reasons – like the fear from legal repercussions, fines and penalties they might face but sometimes it’s just prejudice and personal or corporate views that stand behind it.
Most prominent and well known case of this was the 2019 unaired Super Bowl commercial. For those not familiar with it – long story short, Acreage Holdings, one of the largest US based cannabis companies, created a 60-second commercial featuring three medical cannabis patients and their loved ones, showing how cannabis changed their lives for the better, suggesting that it’s a great, effective and safer alternative to other more dangerous pharma drugs.
The company submitted their ad to CBS and was ready to pay estimated 5-10 million USD, it would cost to air at the half time of the Super Bowl, a prime time commercial spot in the US but CBD refused to air it.
Even though United Nation have reclassified Cannabis and removed it from the list of the “world’s most dangerous” drugs category, Cannabis is still Schedule 1 narcotic in the USA, for which the US Government claims there are no medical uses, and under the federal law harsh fines and penalties still exist for those that use it, sell it, grow it and even advertise any aspect of it, so all US national media is quite warily when it comes to advertising for the cannabis industry.
In other countries, cannabis and cannabis based products are in the same category as alcohol and tobacco, directly prohibiting or heavily restricting any form of advertisement. Some have a more lenient way of looking at cannabis and allow it to be marketed just as any other product, of course limited to adults and adult use.
Depending on the country’s laws, some allow only registered cannabis based drugs like Sativex and Epidiolex to be sold, excluding flowers, tinctures and other cannabis medicine. In many countries at least some restrictions apply to advertising all types of drugs and medicine and some ban it completely.
Shadow banning, limiting and removing cannabis related content from social media
Generating traffic for cannabis related web pages is harder than one might think. Running standard paid campaigns on usual channels any other business can run, such as google, facebook or twitter is not possible, or highly restricted.
Although cannabis businesses are legal, most internet companies and social media refuse to run such campaigns entirely or limit what can be displayed on images and in text. Now, imagine if you’re a seedbank, cannabis producer or just a retailer and you can’t display the products you’re offering. Even if you decide to run those campaigns, they won’t be as effective and won’t really attract any substantial traffic and sales as businesses that can do so freely.
Even social media accounts that are cannabis related are very limited in their reach and in most cases shadow-banned – meaning their pages don’t come up in the search results, content from those pages won’t be shown in the results and they won’t be suggested to users like any other similar page when searching other content.
Try searching for “cannabis” on Facebook and see how many results come up. Before Facebook applied their policy there were tens of thousands of cannabis related pages and their content was shown normally.
Although Twitter is a bit more free for cannabis content, they’ve even added notifications when users search for cannabis, showing “help for addiction links”, in their policy partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services.
Although there are numerous studies showing great potential for cannabis to be used to treat various other addictions and there are numerous practices that utilize and use cannabis in substance abuse treatments, as well as real life data showing that addiction numbers are greatly decreased when cannabis is readily available, they’re forcing this policy on all cannabis content. It’s interesting to notice that similar policies don’t exist when searching for alcohol, although alcohol addiction, unlike cannabis, kills and harms millions of people worldwide.
The only real options for cannabis companies to market themselves are internet – their own webpages, and to some extent social media services, specialized printed industry magazines – such as High Times, Skunk Magazine, Cannabis Culture, Dope Magazine, Cannabis Business Times and others, specialized industry festivals, cups and events and word of mouth.
Weird (and mostly fake) world of cannabis marketing
Marketing any product is always at least embellished and companies use various marketing tricks, photoshop images and alter videos showing their content and products in a slightly better light than it actually is.
Many ads and commercials show products that are not the same as ones consumers end up getting, for instance beer commercials mostly don’t use beer to show you that foamy pouring shots, food commercials regularly show products that are quite different from the ones you buy daily. Cannabis is no different but why is that a problem?
Without having to actually see, smell or feel the cannabis you’re buying, due to various restrictions and regulations that apply, most users buy cannabis based on lab test results and website images and descriptions. What drives most cannabis sales to this day is high THC content (and to some extent high terpene content) and “bag appeal”.
Bag appeal is simply the looks of cannabis buds, and while photoshopping images is a normal practice in all industries, adding resin covered trichomes or even changing the colors of cannabis buds will cause a lot more disappointment to the end consumer when the buds they got don’t match the image.
Although, different colored cannabis strains do exist and plants often get nice purple, blue or red hues and shades on them, some examples of extreme photoshopping often just provide disappointment to consumers when instead of a nice and chunky purple bud, covered with resin they end up with loose “popcorn” yellowish buds.
Questionable, fake and altered lab testing results
Lab testing for most legal cannabis products is mandatory and a part of regulations that apply to it. However, those regulations don’t apply equally to all products. And, while it’s normal and mandatory to test medicinal (and to some extent “recreational”) cannabis products for pesticides, herbicides and other harmful chemicals, other tests – showing cannabinoid and terpene content for instance, are often left to choice.
While THC content in flowers and concentrates is still the number one selling point, it’s very easy to manipulate and alter those values. When producers send samples to be lab tested, they can choose what they send to be analyzed. So, for instance, top colas or buds will generally have more cannabinoids and terpenes present than the ones on the bottom of the plant and some plants may be better than others but it’s that sample that goes for the whole batch.
Without standardized moisture content in the sample, those numbers are quite irrelevant and are just numbers, not necessarily representing what the end consumer is getting. A sample with 15% moisture in it shows dramatically different results when that same sample is dried to 5% moisture.
Another way in which shaddy producers tend to alter their lab tests is by adding concentrates and isolates into or onto the products being tested. Sprinkling some CBD or THC isolates or dripping some isolated terpenes on buds will drastically increase those contents and results.
The worst method of altering lab results is by paying off labs that do the testing. There have already been a number of cases where labs had their licences revoked due to these practices. Industry’s dirty little secret is that they still do exist and some are more open and willing to do so.
CBD in a world of its own
And while testing is mandatory for some cannabis products, some like CBD, aren’t covered by those regulations. The only thing that the governments and agencies involved with CBD are interested in – is the THC content.
Most CBD products come from hemp, although there’s an increasing number of CBD products in the market that aren’t plant based at all and come from industrialized yeast productions. Hemp and hemp products are limited by THC percentage, usually 0.3% or 0.2% in the EU or 1% or more in some countries.
And while there are strict penalties and fines in place in most cases, if producers exceed that totally arbitrary limit of THC, if they lie about the CBD content, there are no repercussions whatsoever.
All studies done on CBD products available show an alarmingly high percentage of discrepancies in the CBD content itself, showing that 6 to 8 products out of 10 aren’t what it says on the label. And while some of those values vary slightly, some products have way lower CBD content, have synthetic cannabinoids instead of CBD and even have no CBD at all.
Another very important thing involving CBD is that producers and retailers of CBD aren’t allowed to make any medicinal claims whatsoever, unless their product is registered as medicine. The only registered CBD product so far on the market is GW Pharma’s Epidiolex.
And while all legal CBD products in most places must have a disclaimer telling consumers that it’s not to be used medicinally and that the product doesn’t have any confirmed medical value or use, a lot of CBD companies do make those claims.
CBD is great medicine and there are numerous studies and research confirming it, as well as millions of people using it worldwide to treat various conditions and illnesses. But just because a product has CBD in it, that doesn’t mean that the product itself can do the same thing as those studies suggested.
We can only hope for cannabis to be treated equally, just like any legitimate and legal industry in the (near) future, as well for more honest and sincere approaches from cannabis companies, in order to have a better cannabis worldwide society.
Remember: It is illegal to germinate cannabis seeds in many countries including the UK. It is our duty to inform you of this fact and to urge you to obey all of your local laws to the letter. The Vault only ever sells or sends out seeds for souvenir, collection or novelty purposes.
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