A Year After That History-Making CBD Mobile Ad At The 2019 Super Bowl, Cannabis Advertising Is Still Traveling A Bumpy Road
Fans packing Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium this weekend for the 2020 Super Bowl won’t likely experience a repeat of 2019’s history-making event: ads at football’s biggest show of the year promoting a CBD product.
In fact, Baristas Coffee Company last year communicated to fans at Atlanta’s Mercedes-Benz Stadium about the brand’s “EnrichaRoast” CBD-infused coffee: Attendees received static images and video commercials sent to their cell phones and tablets.
In an interview Baristas CEO Barry Henthorn explained how it worked: “As an example, when [headliner band] Maroon 5 walked on stage for the half-time show, anybody who had their phone on at the time got an image,” sponsored by EnrichaRoast,, “that said, ‘Send a message to Maroon 5.”
Lots of fans complied, sending messages to the band and learning at the same time about the brand’s CBD coffee plus another Baristas product, “White Coffee,” Henthorn said. The company claimed it reached 50,000 fans’ screens with its ads.
Stadium attendees also received a code for a special deal on Baristas products. “Click-throughs were very strong,” Henthorn said, and Baristas gained the ability to continue sending phone ads even after the football fans returned home.
So, why not repeat the promotion for fans this weekend at Miami’s Hard Rock Stadium? After all, though cannabis at the federal level remains illegal, hemp-derived CBD, which can contain no more than 0.3 percent THC (the psychoactive element in marijuana) became legal under the 2018 Farm Bill (under specific circumstances). Yet barriers remain, Henthorn explained.
True, Baristas repeated its CBD coffee ads at 2018’s NASCAR race and the Grammys – “We became somewhat known,” Henthorn said describing the upside of his company’s effort. “But CBD in general was a consumable, so it took a lot of hits afterward, timing-wise, with the FDA, and so forth. And although we still sell the product, it’s not a primary performer.”
Trouble with Visa credit cards was one big issue. Another one: “If you’re not on Amazon, you’re wasting 40 percent of your ad budget,” the CEO said. CBD consumables are banned by Amazon (though such ads are at each media outlet’s discretion). So, would-be Baristas customers at the stadium would click on Amazon for CBD coffee information and find … nothing.
Cannabis ads for the Super Bowl can hit a wall from other quarters, too: In 2019, Acreage Holdings wanted to run an ad at the Super Bowl calling for the nationwide legalization of medical marijuana. A 60-second ad showed three people suffering from varying health issues saying their lives had been improved by medical marijuana. Forget the heart strings approach though: CBS, which was broadcasting the football extravaganza, said no.
The NFL would have said no, too, had it had the chance. A spokesperson said the League prohibits CBD ads. Objects Henthorn: “I don’t think I needed their permission.”
Still, national cannabis advertising lives on, on Amazon, in another form: The Marijuana Show, where cannabis companies seeking investment tout their products.
A kind of Shark Tank for cannabis entrepreneurs, The Marijuana Show airs on Amazon Prime. Still, that one show is hardly enough, complains Karen Paull, its co-creator and producer (with partner Wendy Robbins): Cannabis companies of any kind are blocked from television and “are being pulled down left and right” by Facebook and other web platforms, Paull says.
Yet, “What The Marijuana Show provides,” she said in an interview, “is a way to go around that issue by [cannabis companies] having a place to put their content in a show that’s about marijuana …That’s the primary way we’re able to help advertisers reach an audience that they could normally not reach.”
In another attempt to solve the national promotion problem, Paull, who has overseen digital advertising for Zui.com, Snapfish and CBS, is creating a network to help cannabis publishers and cannabis advertisers reach one another. (Other such efforts already exist.)
She claims she’ll eventually be able to get advertisers’ promotional content out to 10 million cannabis users across cannabis websites – for which she’ll take a commission. Recently, she received a request for proposal from what she calls a top cannabis company worth hundreds of thousands of dollars.
And, she said, ultimately these efforts could work out well: “I’m sitting in a good position for when the climate changes and it does go federally legal,” Paull said.
That climate hasn’t yet come about, of course, and in the 11 states where recreational cannabis is legal and the 33 states where medicinal cannabis is legal, even attempts at intra-state advertising are encountering bumps in the road — literally, because those efforts involve highway billboards. In an email, Gino Sesto, CEO of the Los Angeles ad agency Dash Two, offered some anecdotes:
· A billboard in rural Maryland depicted Michelangelo’s Adam smoking a joint, resulting in public consternation. The billboard was removed and some state legislatures began to tackle the issue.
· In early 2019, Weed Maps, which pinpoints locations of dispensaries, posted a billboard in Connecticut, where cannabis is illegal, directing motorists to a dispensary in nearby Northampton, Mass. A debate about free speech ensued. Another billboard was then put up just down the road from the first, advocating substance abuse assistance for cannabis users.
· In Arizona in 2016, a pro-cannabis group called Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol erected a billboard near a school that read, “Have you talked to your parents about marijuana?” The group was accused of making light of substance abuse.
Billboards are by far the biggest venue for cannabis advertising in a “legal” state like California, Sesto said. “Honestly, the majority of the growth has been in outdoor,” he said. “We have a selection of 40 different billboards in Los Angeles … every billboard [seems like it’s a] CBD billboard. But that was six months ago. There’s been a little bit of a bubble. [Cannabis companies are] not spending as crazy as they were six months ago.”
Some years ago, Sesto said, cannabis advertising did appear in print, in weeklies for example. But efforts are now all focused on outdoor media.
Are the big advertising conglomerates turning their backs on CBD? Not entirely, Sesto said. Some are setting up small subsidiaries to handle cannabis ads, he said. Reason? “They don’t want to touch this stuff.”