420 Comes Early: Cannabis Brands Roll Out First Paid Ads on Twitter

February 18, 2023 · ADWEEK

A few weeks ago, Elon Musk posted a three-character message that contained only the numbers 420, with no explanation.

Many people interpreted it as yet another sign of Musk’s loud-and-proud canna-fandom. But weed industry executives saw it as a harbinger of a policy shift, speculating that Twitter would soon break ranks with other social channels and become a canna-friendly home in the digital realm.

The guesses turned out to be correct, with the official announcement coming this week: Twitter has “taken measures to relax” its advertising policy, allowing cannabis brands, retailers, delivery services and products to run paid ads for the first time, per the company blog.

Reaction in the weed community has been swift, with multi-state operator Trulieve buying space almost immediately to promote its dispensaries in Arizona and Florida. California-based Pax Labs, best known for its vapes, will soon follow in what’s likely to be a chain reaction of bigger brands and retailers experimenting on the

Leaders in the industry, which is still federally illegal and has limited avenues for paid advertising, described a heady mix of adrenaline and excitement at the prospect of marketing on the global social media hub.

Seismic impact

While the Twitter move comes with restrictions, its impact could be seismic and “speaks to the growing acceptance of cannabis as a mainstream wellness category,” according to Kate Lynch, executive vice president of marketing at multi-state operator Curaleaf.

It could also help chip away at the stigma of cannabis use, normalizing the plant in a broad public forum, and kickstart business and cultural conversations.

“It’s not a shock that it happened, but the pace is incredibly fast, and quite frankly this is huge for the industry,” Gina Collins, CMO at Trulieve, told Adweek. “It will pressure other platforms to re-evaluate their positions.”

No word yet if behemoths like Meta, Google or Snapchat are rewriting their own ad guidelines to welcome cannabis (they have a history of censoring weed content). As public companies, they have regulatory issues that the privately held Twitter does not, though insiders like Socrates Rosenfeld, co-founder and CEO of the online cannabis marketplace Jane, says “it’s a matter of when, not if” other platforms follow Twitter’s lead.

Good business decision

It’s important to note that no one in the weed business is naive about this development. Twitter has lost billions of dollars because of a mass exodus of advertisers since Musk’s 2022 acquisition, and the service needs new revenue sources.

The policy change is “a good business decision,” according to Amy Deneson, co-founder of the newly launched trade group Cannabis Media Council. “We are confident it will prove to be a significant revenue generator for Twitter and will show other mainstream publishers and platforms reliant on ad income that cannabis companies have money to spend and should be treated like other adult CPG brands.”

Brands like Kiva see Twitter ads as a way for them and others to expand their reach “as well as change the landscape of the industry’s marketing strategies,” according to Aaron Rivadeneyra, director of ecommerce at the edibles maker.

Twitter thinks its audience is primed for the move: Users often talk about cannabis, more frequently in fact than they discuss pets, cooking, golf, fast food, coffee or liquor, the brand said in its blog post.

“The cannabis space on Twitter is fun and engaging, with users tweeting about their experiences using cannabis—whether medicinally, for wellness or recreation—as well as recommending brands, products and retail locations,” Alex Alianiello, U.S. sales and partnerships, wrote. “The conversation also reflects where the cannabis industry is currently heading: legislative/policy reform, business development and community impact.”

Marketers will be vetted for legal compliance—their ads will require pre-approval—and they will have access to Twitter’s ad products such as promoted tweets, promoted product opportunities, location-specific takeovers, in-stream video sponsorships and partner publication features.

Will it work?

Pax, which has leaned into long-form content, artistic collaborations and other nontraditional marketing, will take a “test and learn” approach when it drops its first Twitter ads later this month.

“Assuming we craft the right message and get it in front of the right audience, the question will be, ‘Will it perform?’” Luke Droulez, the brand’s vice president of marketing, told Adweek. “Because we were so limited on paid media before, it’s a good starting point.”

The ads will be subtle, he said, containing “nothing overt” that would show cannabis usage.

Trulieve, which operates brick-and-mortar stores in 11 states, will use its ads to “tell people who we are,” Collins said. “There’s broad awareness of cannabis in the U.S., but as you move down the pipeline into consideration and to what people actually know, it’s all over the place.”

There will be no “hard sell,” Collins said, and Twitter users clicking on the ads will go first to an educational page. A second click will take them to the store in their geographical area. Trulieve has carved out a “national partnership” with Twitter, with options across all its markets.

Weed ads on Twitter, which will run only in legal states, could help boost a brand’s profile, “which is very different than driving conversion,” Rosenfeld said. “Just like any advertising, it all comes down to attribution.”

Twitter’s ROI tools for cannabis advertisers “will get more sophisticated,” Droulez said, potentially stealing dollars from programmatic and other conventional go-to media buys.

Conrad Lisco, chief strategy officer at Fyllo, cautioned brands to carefully craft their strategies before buying ads on Twitter. Being first, in other words, isn’t necessarily best.

“Some brands may be inclined to jump in quickly without considering the possibility of an evolving policy or a broader strategy aimed at developing a consistent message and increasing overall engagement,” Lisco told Adweek. “Elevating that message should be a priority for cannabis brands as they continue to fight their way into the mainstream. Anything less than a strong start on Twitter will only make that mission harder.” (Full Story)

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