Farm Bill thaws – but doesn’t clear – hemp’s advertising landscape

Under the historic 2018 Farm Bill, hemp companies should be able to advertise like other agricultural producers and manufacturers.

But many businesses say they still face hurdles, especially with digital marketing.

A good example is Evo Hemp, a Boulder, Colorado-based hemp food company.

“The Farm Bill is opening the doors to have the conversation with these people,” said Ari Sherman, president and co-founder of Evo Hemp. “It gives us a lot more room to stand on when we try legitimize ourselves and we try to convince people.”

Residents in the San Francisco Bay Area could soon see or hear ads telling them where they can buy Evo Hemp products, partly thanks to the Farm Bill.

The new law is making organizations more comfortable with featuring marketing materials from the hemp industry.

Sherman says he still must convince some places to run hemp ads.

And Evo Hemp and a wide variety of others in the industry are still struggling to advertise on “the big three” – Facebook, Google and Instagram.

“It’s always a constant game of trying to convince people that these are legal products; we sell these products all over the country, and the federal government just told us that they’re OK,” Sherman said.

New opportunities to experiment with advertising

Evo Hemp plans to spend about $1 million on advertising and marketing in 2019.

The company’s products already are sold in more than 4,000 retail outlets, but Evo Hemp is looking for more exposure for its 17 SKUs – including hemp protein bars, seeds and oils.

“We’re trying out more traditional marketing that is a little more locally focused so we can really target the stores where are products are in,” Sherman said.

Evo Hemp purchased bus and newspaper ads in the Bay Area. The company also plans to run sponsorships with an NPR affiliate in the Bay Area in February.

The company previously spent thousands of dollars trying to get people to sample its products in stores – a strategy Sherman called expensive and inefficient.

Dreaming of digital ads

But conventional display advertising may be opening faster than digital platforms for hemp companies.

“We’ve advertised in a variety of local papers, but the ROI on the more traditional advertising is not as great as it is with more social media … where you can have a more targeted ad approach,” said Hannah Smith, director of communications for Joy Organics.

Since the Fort Collins, Colorado-based seller of hemp CBD softgels, tinctures and topicals can’t advertise through the major social media platforms, the brand has turned to influencers to promote its products.

Zen Pup, based in Corona Del Mar, California, said it’s trying to stay away from traditional marketing.

“We don’t feel that’s where we’ll reach our core customer,” said Nicholas Weatherhead, co-founder and chief marketing officer of Zen Pup.

But advertising through social media platforms is tricky.

Facebook, which also owns Instagram, said the company allows some, but not all, hemp and CBD products to be advertised on its platforms.

A company spokeswoman said the media giant allows advertising only for non-ingestible CBD products.

Asked whether the Farm Bill’s legalization of CBD would change Facebook’s policy, she said it would not but declined to elaborate.

Google did not respond to questions about its policies for hemp and CBD advertising.

Creative workarounds

In addition to working with influencers, Zen Pup hosts a blog. The company also promotes products through email newsletters.

“The Farm Bill passing is definitely going to open up some new opportunities within the industry, and we’re excited to see what happens as time progresses over the next couple months,” Weatherhead said.

But CBD entrepreneurs aren’t waiting for others to make that move, instead finding creative ways around ongoing obstacles to advertising and marketing their products.

On Feb. 3, Baristas Coffee Co. of Kenmore, Washington, will advertise its new EnrichaRoast CBD coffee on the cell phones of Super Bowl attendees. The coffee company is also placing digital displays in the stadium.

Though short of the elusive – and pricey – television advertising during the Super Bowl, advertising at the game itself “will give us tremendous exposure,” Baristas CEO Barry Henthorn said in a statement.

Looking forward

Companies should follow the policies set by Facebook and Google to avoid having their accounts shut down, said Cary Smith, senior vice president of social media at North 6th Agency, which works with cannabis companies in Colorado and New York to develop social media and content strategies.

“You can talk about cannabis. You can talk about your products. You just can’t make any claims about what the product will do,” Smith said.

He believes hemp and CBD companies will focus on marketing themselves as lifestyle brands, stealing from the playbooks of tobacco, alcohol and energy drinks.

“It won’t be, ‘Consume this cannabis product to feel this way,’” he said.

“It will be more like, ‘Here’s your active lifestyle. Here’s what you do. And here’s how cannabis can be a part of it.’”

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4 comments on “Farm Bill thaws – but doesn’t clear – hemp’s advertising landscape
  1. Ray on

    “the federal government just told us that they’re OK,” Sherman said.”

    Harry Anslinger never expected facebook, Instagram or twitter. Thus Harry never expected hemp legalization and now the US federal government is being called out on an 81 year prohibition on the most eco friendly food, fiber, fuel and medicine ever known. It’s time to face reality, hemp (cannabis) prohibition is the holocaust of our generation.

    Reply
  2. A Likely Story on

    “You can talk about cannabis. You can talk about your products. You just can’t make any claims about what the product will do,” Smith said.

    Maybe Smith found an advertiser who parrots the FDA warning about wellness claims, but this is really only an FDA issue and has nothing to do with advertising, banking or other industries that won’t supply goods/services to the cannabis industry. We have the Federal Reserve bank regulators to thank for banking roadblocks. Other industries avoid cannabis out of ignorance and/or subjective policies that they’re unwilling to advertise.

    Reply
  3. John Armstrong on

    While there is not a general federal prohibition on advertising hemp, both the FDA and the FTC are looking at web-based and other digital marketing materials to verify the truthfulness and accuracy of the advertising and marketing claims. For example, the FDA has NOT approved CBD to be sold for human or pet consumption in food or water. Advertising such products likely will result in the FDA action. Making claims that CBD or hemp fights cancer, helps you sleep, relieves pain without a medically backed and FDA peer-reviewed study will likely get your business shut down. If a claim is false, then the Federal Trade Commission may seek to take down the advertising and possibly seize the assets of the business. Hence, legal counsel should be consulted regarding any web-based or digital marketing despite there not being a complete federal ban on advertising hemp and hemp products.

    Reply
  4. The Mad Yooper on

    let me see if I’ve got this straight in my mind.

    The farm bill gets passed. The government turns the matter over to the FDA and the FTC. Then 48 hours later the government shuts downfor 35 days.

    Looking forward, there is no real reason to believe that the government will not shut down again on Feb 15th.

    In the meantime, we can grow it , we can sell it, we can process it, we can eat it, smoke it, we can even use it as a suppository, and all of hemps by products are legal. With the possible exception of the sight a person might choose to defecate.

    This is very frustrating to me. We have the best government money can buy and they spend each and every day proving it. The only thing to do is to regulate ourselves in the hope that when the FDA and the FTC are open and finally get to this they take the easy way out and say, “Oh you’ve got best practice standards?”
    Then adopts them.

    This is a dangerous game. I would not be making any claims about much at all. Maybe taste, flavor, chemical analysis, And where to make purchases.

    Reply

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