Why Cannabis Brands Are Turning to Influencer Marketing

3.04.2019 Trends & Strategy

The cannabis industry is growing rapidly in the US thanks to the expansion of medical marijuana and its legalization at the state level in certain areas. Currently, 10 states and the District of Columbia allow recreational marijuana use, and 33 states allow medical use. Products and services that have become popular over the years range from CBD gummies, vaporizers, topicals, pre-rolled joints, and weed delivery services.

Despite the mainstream push towards its medical benefits, marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I substance. This makes it difficult for cannabis brands to advertise their products. For example, social media platforms like Facebook and its subsidiary Instagram ban all promotions for drugs and drug-related products. Google, which owns YouTube, prohibits digital ads that promote drugs or anything related to illegal substances.

If cannabis sales are growing, but laws are still restricting these brands from advertising their products, how are consumers finding out about them? Traditional methods like radio, billboards, and television advertising are options, but they face complex rules that vary for each region. Marketers have to access different channels for promotion, such as podcasts, print media, and mobile apps, such as Leafly. This has lead brands to tap into the influencer marketing realm.

The use of influencers in cannabis marketing is on the rise just like the market itself. According to Traackr, an influencer analytics platform, edible producers have increased their use of influencers by 32 percent in one year. The same trend is happening with weed delivery services, which have increased their use by 29 percent in one year. Brands can utilize the right influencers to market their products without having to push out ads that could potentially get them banned. The evolving perception of the cannabis buyer is helping to normalize cannabis consumption. This means that more consumers will gather interest in trying out products.

Kiva Confections, a California-based edibles company, has turned to influencer marketing to promote their products. Since 2015, the company’s Instagram page has been shut down eight times due to product-focused ads. They have had to change their handle every time; currently, it stands as @madebykiva with 12,000 followers. Christie Strong, marketing communications manager at Kiva, has said that they currently have several influencer partnerships in the works with wellness influencers. This shows that brands are going beyond the “stoner” stereotype and marketing their products as safe lifestyle enhancers.

Although cannabis brands are looking to influencers to help promote their products, there is still pushback. Some influencers stray away from partnering with cannabis brands. One reason is that they are afraid of their accounts getting taken down. Instagram states that their marijuana policy doesn’t allow any content that promotes the sale of marijuana regardless of state or country. By promoting cannabis brands, influencers risk alienating followers who may disapprove of marijuana use. They are also concerned that this will deter other brands from wanting to work with them in the future.

As marijuana continues to break the ‘smoker’ stigma, more influencers will open up to opportunities with cannabis brands. If cannabis becomes legal on the federal level, we’ll also see social media platforms update their terms and policies. For now, it’s a game of cat-and-mouse for advertising within the cannabis industry.

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