UK Marketing Challenges Persist for CBD

By Robert Jappie, Ince, special for New Frontier Data

While advertising cannabis-derived products in the U.K. is a challenge, more and more CBD companies are pushing their brands into the public consciousness using various media channels.

Today’s most desirable mode of advertising is via digital platforms, though not necessarily for CBD products. Most of the best-known platforms do not allow cannabis-derived products to be advertised. Nevertheless, many companies make attempts, with mixed results.

Ads put up whether on Facebook, Amazon, or Google will likely be quickly removed. At longest, such an ad might stay up for a couple of days, with luck. Some companies will try to get around such bans by being creative in their respective product descriptions. One might refer to “hemp oil” while making no mention of CBD. Another might promote an aromatherapy product, not for human consumption. Such options are not viable practices for any serious company seeking to establish a reputable brand.

Trying to advertise CBD products on Google is particularly dicey as a company risks being blacklisted: If one’s ads are repeatedly pulled, the company is in jeopardy of being added to Google’s naughty list and their website banished from searches.

Instagram, though owned by Facebook, seems to have a more relaxed attitude toward CBD. A number of influencers can be found advertising CBD products on the platform, and Ignite has made good use of CEO Dan Bilzerian’s 30 million followers to promote its range of CBD offerings effectively.

Yet, not even Ignite can resist the lure of mainstream media. In July last year, Ignite embarked on the U.K.’s first national billboard campaign, with postings on huge billboards in Brick Lane, Notting Hill, and various other locations across London and further afield. Ignite’s marketing strategy may not be to everyone’s taste, but it undeniably proves to be commercially effective. Even a toned-down approach for the U.K. market garnered substantial attention which translated well into sales.

The CBD brand YourZooki has been sold on shopping channel QVC for about a year, marking a major achievement for the brand, which the CEO has related was not easily achieved. Last year, when fallout from Brexit loomed and Parliament TV became almost compulsory viewing, one company managed to secure a commercial during a primetime Sky News advertisement break: Though the ad was perhaps chiefly characterized by its blandness,  and no information was provided to contextualize what the products were actually for, it marked a pioneering moment of its sort among TV advertising.

The primary challenge in accessing established marketing channels is the approval of the Advertising Standards Authority (ASA). When commencing a marketing campaign, a company will usually submit its creative deck to the ASA for feedback. Most of the advertising agencies controlling billboards and TV slots will insist on the ASA’s positive feedback before allowing a campaign to proceed. For now, the ASA is treating CBD with extreme caution, and any assertion about the product tends to be deemed a medical or health claim.

Of course, the ASA’s feedback is merely that: The ASA has no preventative power against a company’s proceeding with a given ad campaign. Its approval may confer a sense of legitimacy, but ultimately is not a final arbiter or what is or not appropriate. Its authority to censure a company and pull an ad campaign arises only in response to a formal complaint lodged by the public (a risk ostensibly avoided through the aforementioned blandness of the TV commercial).

With agility and persistence, then, there are ways for CBD companies to access mainstream media channels. As an industry axiom reminds, creativity without strategy is called “art” while creativity with strategy is called “advertising”. Toward that end, New Frontier Data offers data advertising solutions as new ways to help advertisers effectively target the fastest-growing cannabis consumer segments for their products. Expect more CBD brands going forward to mine the possibilities to expand their customer bases.


Robert Jappie is a Partner in Cannabis Law & Regulation for Ince, a London-based law firm.