In the Face of Restrictions and Limited Channels, Cannabis Marketers Turn to Out-of-Home Advertising–Here’s the Right Way to Do It

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The continued legalization of cannabis across the U.S. is expected to drive a surge in advertising spending in the coming years. Case in point, market and consumer data provider Statista projects that ad spending by cannabis companies in North America will grow from $661 million in 2018 to $3.89 billion over a 10-year period.

While growth expectations are dramatic and impressive, cannabis brands are faced with significant challenges in their marketing efforts. Many channels, including Google and Facebook, do not accept cannabis ads, and the ones that do come with many complex restrictions.

In these relatively early days of cannabis legality, out-of-home (OOH) advertising has emerged as the advertising channel of choice for cannabis brands. In addition to being one of the few remaining mediums capable of reaching a mass audience, OOH offers fewer restrictions than other channels, is cost effective for early-stage brands, and is proven to influence consumer attitudes and behaviors like web or foot-traffic to dispensaries.

But OOH planning for cannabis brands also requires awareness and real-time tracking of the ever-changing labyrinth of regulations and laws dictating where advertising can be placed and what can be shown in an ad. These laws differ not only by state, but by county and individual municipality. And with more than 1.5 million screens and displays, the U.S. OOH market is complex even for a traditional brand, let alone one that also has to navigate numerous restrictions on content and placement.

However, with investments and advancements in data aggregation technologies and the emergence of new campaign planning tools and platforms, it is possible for cannabis brands to quickly and safely leverage OOH to grow their businesses.

By adhering to these five key considerations, cannabis brands can leverage OOH safely, legally and effectively.

1. Look Before Leaping

Cannabis legalization occurs on a state-by-state basis. No two states have exactly the same sets of laws and guidelines. As a once-banned activity becomes legal in a given state, there is a rush to market with a flood of advertising activity. Take the time to truly understand the regulatory nature, and any sensitivities, before launching headlong into your advertising efforts.

2. Be Mindful of the Space You Are In

Yes, new data-driven planning tools and platforms enable the quick and easy identification of usable and compliant locations. However, even after ensuring that the selected inventory complies with all the necessary regulations, consider whether the message is truly appropriate for the community and surrounding areas where it will be seen. Just because you can promote your product on a particular OOH screen doesn’t necessarily mean you should. Criticism and community blowback come into play, even when you’re operating within your legal rights.   

3. Create a Sense of Shared Accountability

Sometimes, despite best efforts, issues arise. Have a plan in place ahead of time to manage complaints, incoming press inquiries or any other speed bumps. Establish a culture of shared accountability among all partners so that issues can be tackled quickly and effectively.

4. Leverage Partners

Today, any company can easily buy a billboard by calling up the media owner, but by working with an OOH specialist agency, cannabis brands can access a wider range of opportunities and capitalize on the experience and volume they manage to secure the very best locations and audiences for the best price. Specialist partners can also make it easier to navigate the complexities of OOH campaigns with turn-key and end-to-end solutions covering planning, execution, price negotiation, payment and reporting.

5. Ensure Every Channel Has a Seat at Your Table

Finally, too often, OOH is added on at the end of the wider planning process, as a secondary consideration or something “nice to have.” This is true both for cannabis and mainstream brands. To maximize the role of all channels in a marketing plan, bring everyone to the table from day one as the strategy is being developed. Marrying the vision from the start ensures ideas come to life across every brand communication and creates greater chance of success in delivering on business objectives. 

Shabnam Irilian is managing director for Talon Outdoor, an out-of-home agency delivering creative, technology-led and integrated OOH communications.

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