- Posted by Richie Martin
- On November 21, 2017
- 0 Comments
There is a question that haunts me and likely countless social media marketers across the country.
“Can my marijuana-related business run paid advertisements on Facebook?”
Working in social media, I’m frequently presented with questions like this one about Facebook’s often cryptic policies, regarding everything from ideal image size to advertising rules and regulations. When it comes to these policies and rules, sometimes a single “correct” answer just doesn’t exist.
Sometimes, your value and ability to execute as a social marketer is dependent on your ability to develop the best solution based on the available (and often incomplete) information, and being ready to adjust at a moment’s notice given the resulting data.
There is perhaps no industry where this is more relevant than for businesses in the medical and recreational marijuana space. While, culturally, the topic has lost some of its novelty and taboo undertones, and for many of us has simply become another vertical for which we need to be ready to deliver results, the industry is still a long way from “normalizing”. It is an industry in constant flux.
Simply put, marketers and advertisers operating in this space need to be ready to change their methods and strategies at a moment’s notice. That’s generally true for all digital marketers in this day and age, but it rings especially true for this particular industry.
In my opinion, one of the most valuable traits for marketers to possess in a young, maturing and burgeoning industry like legal marijuana is the ability to operate within reality, rather than getting hung up on how we wish things would work.
And the reality of the situation for marijuana-related businesses is that you need to be prepared to hang your hat on digital marketing solutions that offer consistency and reliability for your business (or your client’s business). This is often more uncomfortable and difficult than the way we would prefer to do things.
What do this mean for marijuana marketers? While many states have recognized the rights of their residents to cultivate, sell and consume marijuana, the federal government has yet to do so. And this is where the line is drawn for Facebook. No federal acceptance, no Facebook advertising.
Directly from Facebook:
Ads must not constitute, facilitate, or promote illegal products, services or activities.
That’s pretty vague. What entails constituting, facilitating or promoting? Surely there’s more clear cut information out there about this, right? Well, not really.
A quick Google search using any combination of the words “Facebook marijuana advertising” will reveal untold amounts of Facebook advertisers wondering why their marijuana ads were pulled, but this other guy they know isn’t having any problems at all. What gives?
Keep searching, and you’ll hear the echo of a thousand disenfranchised marijuana marketers on Facebook all crying out at once, “But I did everything right!”
And therein lies the point. You can do everything right given the available information and still have your ads pulled, because we don’t have all of the information. Plus, as far as Facebook is concerned, as long as the sale and use of marijuana is federally prohibited, it’s illegal. For an agency acting on behalf of the best interest of its clients, that’s where the conversation should begin and end.
Facebook’s stance is certainly understandable. If you think we’re operating in a weird grey area, think of the position Facebook is in as one of the largest advertisers in the world. The liability they face for these kinds of things must be staggering.
So when I’m asked “can we — a business operating within or tangential to the marijuana industry — advertise our wares and services on Facebook?”, my answer is both a yes and a no.
Can you? Technically, if you do everything “right”, yes, you could get ads for your marijuana-related business published on Facebook, but your results will vary — often dramatically. Some folks have never had a single issue. Others have never been able to get a single ad to run. Others have had their ads approved but then have had their hands slapped after the fact.
But should you? Probably not. Advertising for verticals and products that Facebook considers to be bordering on nefarious or illicit can be a nerve-wracking prospect. Will your page get pulled for running one-too-many ads for marijuana related products, services or information? Same answer as before. Maybe, maybe not. Is that a grey area you’re comfortable operating within?
Just earlier this year, a friend of mine also working in the industry had a marijuana client post something that Facebook deemed to be outside of the scope of their policy. While the page didn’t get outright deleted, they were blocked from posting for three days. And not only was the offending page blocked, but every single page associated to their advertiser account was also blocked from posting. There was zero warning for this type of action, and in my estimation, they got lucky.
While this is a short-term issue, the point still stands. As a business operating in a maturing industry, hang your hat on strategies and methods that offer the greatest amount of reliability and consistency, and offer minimal opportunities for backlash.
I also don’t want to paint this all in a way that discourages marketers from taking chances, and using all of the available information to try out new — and sometimes scary — things. That’s a part of the marketing and advertising business, no matter what industry you’re in.
It’s just that these scary, more untested activities should never be the crux of your campaign. They should be the icing on the cake, the cherry on top of a sound, comprehensive and holistic strategy. Always be prepared for the worst case scenario.
The bottom line?
As an individual that takes his clients’ results very seriously, I would truly love nothing more than to be able to reallocate a few dollars to social advertising to start inundating these pages with fans and activity.
But I just can’t outright advocate for paid social advertising on behalf of my marijuana-related clients. If they wish to do so themselves, we will always provide them as much relevant, timely and accurate data as possible in order to help facilitate their success. But for us to engage in this activity on behalf of our clients without the ability to provide a single assurance or guarantee in terms of the future health of their social presence would be irresponsible on our part.
This isn’t all doom and gloom. One of my favorite things about the marijuana industry is that while it is a billion dollar presence in multiple states at this point, it still has a very communal feel to it, and that lends itself well to growing a social presence organically. The businesses that make this industry are creative, resourceful, nimble and community-oriented.
Leverage your partners, your community and your customers, and don’t be afraid to venture into (slightly) murkier waters from time to time. A fusion of traditional marketing strategies with newer, digital means can still be supremely effective. Provide your customers information with real value, address their actual needs, and the rest will come in due time.
As social marketers (and really just as marketers in general), our job often boils down to doing the absolute best we can with what we have. I’m guilty of sometimes pining and daydreaming of creative paid strategies for my clients in these industries that act as an effective workaround 100% of the time, but we’d all be better suited to place that energy into refining our strategies with the resources we know we can count on.
And someday, when the doors open up for businesses in these industries, we’ll be the ones who are prepared to make the most of it.