Cannabis marketing in Canada is tricky. Many standard marketing tactics are prohibited, so it is important to be familiar with cannabis marketing law. To help you get started you, we’ll introduce you to the rules and regulations surrounding cannabis marketing, share some tips and tricks, and show examples of successful campaigns!
If you don’t want to learn cannabis marketing law yourself, you’ll need a hire qualified marketing person to navigate the fine details. If you’re having trouble finding the best of the best, use a recruitment agency to find someone for you.
According to the Government of Canada website, cannabis marketing and packaging is prohibited from using the following marketing tactics in Canada:
False or misleading cannabis promotion and marketing that is likely to create an erroneous impression about its characteristics, value, quantity, composition, strength, concentration, potency, purity, quality, merit, safety, health effects or health risks.
Communicating price or distribution information
The price or availability of cannabis is permitted at points of sale by authorized retailers (section 17(4)).
Appealing to young persons (individuals under 18 years of age)
Using testimonials or endorsements, however displayed or communicated (section
Depicting a person, character or animal, whether real or fictional
Presenting the cannabis, accessory or any brand element in a manner that associates the product or brand with, or evokes a positive or negative emotion about or image of, a way of life, such as glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring
Sponsorship: The display, reference or use of cannabis brand elements or producer, seller, distributor or service provider names in promotions for the sponsorship of a person, entity, event, activity or facility.
Naming certain facilities: The display on sports or cultural facilities of cannabis or cannabis accessory brand elements or the name of a person that produces, sells or distributes cannabis, sells or distributes a cannabis accessory or provides a cannabis service.
In addition, Facebook and Instagram advertisements “must not constitute, facilitate or promote illegal products, services or activities”, “must not promote the sale or use of illegal or recreational drugs” and can’t depict drugs or paraphernalia, and even imply recreational drug use.
While cannabis is legal in Canada, it’s not legal everywhere. Social media platforms are public, so online posts and advertisements have the chance of reaching people living in places where cannabis is still illegal. You can still post about cannabis, but unfortunately boosted content is out of the question.
So, how do you make sure your product reaches the right people? How do you promote your dispensary while staying within Canadian law?
Develop a Strong Brand
Your brand is everything when it comes to cannabis marketing. Your brand can’t imply a specific way of life such as glamour, recreation, vitality, risk or daring. But, informational promotion and brand preference promotion are allowed, and encouraged.
Build a Visual and Conceptual Brand Identity
Brand preference promotion is when you promote your brand, rather than the product that you sell.
A strong brand is what will initially draw your customers in, and keep them coming back.
Brands are built on everything from the voice you use in your copy, to the colour schemes and imagery you choose.
Brand identity is a vital part of ANY company... even more-so when you’re promoting a product without equal access to many traditional marketing channels and tactics.
Prairie Records in Saskatchewan (Instagram shown above) built an incredibly unique brand. They centre their brand identity around music, and the relationship between cannabis and music (without making any scientific claims).
They go so far with this brand identity, that they actually designed their stores to mimic a record store shopping experience.
Canna Cabana (pictured above) is also another case study to learn from. Their bright blue, orange, and black colour schemes are instantly catching. If you scroll deeper into their post history, you’ll find photos of staff out at events having fun, and engaging with their community. Their identity says trendy, modern, upbeat, and involved. Naturally, people who align with these qualities will feel drawn to Canna Cabana’s brand.
The bottom line of building your dispensaries identity, is to show who you are in a unique and memorable way.
Align Yourself With a Cause
Corporate social responsibility is a growing trend among businesses. One way of gaining consumer support, is to involve yourself with social initiative that matters to you.
The cannabis dispensary (and producer) Tweed is a master of this. They provide ongoing support to the LGBTQ+ community, works with MADD Canada in the fight to end impaired driving, and started its own community improvement-focused initiative (Tweed Collective).
In addition, Tweed started its own green-initiative to combat cannabis-related waste. They provide recycling boxes at all of their dispensaries. For those who can’t get to their dispensaries, they provide the option to create a TerraCycle account, download a free UPS label, and mail their packaging directly to TerraCycle.
For consumers who care about LGBTQ+ issues, the fight against impaired driving, environmentalism, or all of the above , Tweed makes a compelling case for why they should be choice #1.
Stick to the Facts
Informational promotion can be used to highlight specific features of your product, and where it can be bought.
Building on your brand development, focus on what is true about your product. What makes your dispensary unique? Do you have a loyalty program? Can customers order online? Do you provide a unique customer service experience?
It’s illegal to make medical claims about your product, but you can talk about cannabis “composition”. Talk about flavonoids, terpenes, strain, and properties, but you can’t claim the product will reduce muscle pain, help with anxiety, create focus etc…)
For example: if you were marketing a beer, you could say:
This is a light hoppy beer with a citrusy flavour, brewed in Southern BC.
But you could not say:
Beer is known for its relaxing properties, and ability to create a more positive perceptions. Drinking this beer will reduce noticeable muscle pains, improve sociability, and increase blood flow.
Same principles apply to cannabis. There is not enough research surrounding the medical benefits of cannabis—making claims about the benefits is considered false advertising.
The photos above are taken from an Edmonton dispensary, Numo Cannabis’s website. They clearly state facts about why their dispensary is the best option option: it’s a locally owned business with competitive prices, quick and easy service, and free parking. These are all factual and appealing, without making any false claims about the product or breaching any marketing rules.
Let’s look at Tweed again: the company took Canada by storm with their incredibly successful debut campaign. You’d probably recognize their ultra-minimalistic, iconic slogan: “Hi.”
This simple “Hi.” paved the way for cannabis marketing campaigns across the country.
Back when everyone was scrambling to navigate cannabis marketing laws, Tweed stood above all by simply saying “hello, nice to meet you, we’re Tweed”. They didn’t try flashy claims, over-the-top attention grabbing, or word salads to describe their product.
As for marketing cannabis as an actual product, Viridis Cannabis (a cannabis producer) found an innovative way to talk about about their cannabis, without breaking any marketing rules.
Viridis Cannabis promotes their new strain, Northern Lights, by talking about “flavour,” history, physical properties of the plant, and related strains. They refer to their product as “craft cannabis” and focus on their grassroots horticultural approach to growing their product.
Their product-related statements are based in facts about the physical plant and the cannabis growth-process... not claims about what the product does.
Create Engaging Digital Content
You can’t boost your posts, so you’ll have to put the extra work into creating interactive content.
We showed you some strong examples of brand identity through Instagram, but it’s not JUST about the look.
You want to create content that engages your customers and encourages them to like, comment, and share!
Here are some ideas:
Write Search Engine Optimized blog posts that answer commonly asked questions
Make short informational videos
Build trivia or IQ quizzes (and use them to collect emails!)
Create Facebook and Instagram polls
Ask questions in your posts to encourage commenting
Post funny, memorable content (everyone love memes!)
Some safety tips for social include:
Never advertise exact prices
Don’t promote a direct way for users to order products
Do include disclaimers on your profile to spell out your intention: age 19+ (depending on the region.)
Build Strong Customer Relationships
Dispensaries are a dime a dozen now, so how do you stand out and ensure your customers come back time and time again? You’re trying to build brand preference, so show your customers why they should prefer you!
Set up your store in an appealing way that speaks to your audience. Referencing Prairie Records again, their store design is one of their most unique selling points.
Customers can browse through “records” that have the strain name, information about flavour and CBD vs THC contents, and art that “represents” the strain.
Experiential store design is something to keep in mind: you can’t promote your product directly, but you can promote an engaging experience that draws customers to your brand (and through that, your product).
Spirit Leaf is another Dispensary that goes above and beyond with their in-store design. Spirit Leaf’s wide open store design and light but earthy colour schemes create a wintery, outdoorsy feeling.
Consider some sort of exclusive, or VIP program! Kiaro does a great job of this. They offer online shopping, exclusive offers, early product notifications, and a customized shopping experience; and ensure their VIPs are the first to know about store openings, events, and other cannabis news.
Email marketing is a great way of keeping your customers engaged.
Depending on provincial regulations, online stores can be a great way of creating convenience for your customer. Online shopping is a go-to for individuals who don’t have the time, transportation, or mobility, to visit a dispensary regularly.
Implementing an online store creates a competitive edge for your business by reaching demographics that you wouldn’t otherwise.
Your budtenders are the face of your brand! Everyone knows that quality customer service is integral in building customer relationships. Make sure your staff are well educated, friendly, and behave in a way that aligns with your brand. Positive customer service experiences will bring people back time and time again.
At Cannabis at Work, we can find the right employees who will bring your brand to life. If you’re already in the process of hiring employees, check out our blog on resume screening in the cannabis industry.
Merch, merch, merch!
Merch is another way to build brand preference promotion.
Shirts, grinders, lighters, and stickers are an effective way of building customer loyalty and spreading awareness of your brand.
Since the line is unclear about what “appealing to minors” and “implying a certain lifestyle” looks like, tread carefully with merch design.
Tweed’s merch is simplistic and stylish, and aligns with their minimalistic “hi” campaign.
What about influencer marketing?
Cannabis influencer marketing can be extremely effective when done right… but be extra careful to not break any cannabis marketing laws, or platform-specific rules.
Some influencers are wary of promoting cannabis: Instagram has a history of shutting down accounts that promote cannabis use.
It’s tricky, but that doesn’t mean that cannabis influencer campaigns are impossible. The best approach to these campaigns is, once again, brand preference promotion.
We should note that it is illegal to give away free cannabis under any circumstances. Influencers cannot be compensated with free cannabis, and can not be sent free cannabis to post about.
But, brand-related merch is fine! Posts of influencers wearing your merch can go a long way, as long as it doesn’t “evoke a positive or negative emotion about a way of life, such as glamour, recreation, excitement, vitality, risk or daring,” or appeal to minors.
Testimonials and endorsements are risky territory: testimonials and endorsements about the product are prohibited, no matter how they are presented.
That doesn’t mean that your influencers can’t promote your brand. Aurora used testimonials as part of their #WomenOfAurora campaign.
They showcased their female employees next to quotes about working for the company. Instead of promoting their cannabis, they promoted their brand through realistic, relatable employee testimonials.
This is just the tip of the iceberg for cannabis marketing ideas… if you’re having difficulty executing your campaign, look at recruiting a marketing professional!
At Cannabis At Work, we’ll help you build your dream team. We don’t just recruit marketers, we make perfect matches between employers and job seekers across the entire cannabis industry.