Twitter’s ad move marks notable shift in US cannabis marketing

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Image of a marijuana leaf with a Twitter blue background on a cellphone with the Twitter bird flying away.

(Photo illustration by Demi Hinton)

Twitter’s new policy change permitting advertising and marketing by state-legal cannabis companies is a step forward for the sector and could nudge other digital advertising platforms to rethink their prohibitions on cannabis promotions, industry insiders say.

At the same time, Twitter is spicing up its entry into U.S. cannabis advertising with a promotional incentive for the industry.

“To me it’s a clear indication of the normalization of cannabis as a consumer packaged good and one that is moving towards more mainstream acceptance,” said Lisa Buffo, founder and CEO of the Cannabis Marketing Association industry group.

Rosie Mattio, founder and CEO of New York-based cannabis PR agency Mattio Communications, said her firm discussed the new advertising policy with Twitter in the run-up to the social media company’s policy change.

“If (other social media firms are) seeing that there’s real money to be made by allowing cannabis companies to advertise on a specific platform, I think they’d be foolish not to open up the doors to cannabis companies,” she said.

Still, some questions remain about exactly what Twitter’s new cannabis advertising policy permits and what it doesn’t.

Twitter’s cannabis advertising rules

Some U.S. cannabis industry players have already moved to take advantage of Twitter’s policy change, with vaporizer company Pax announcing Wednesday it is “among the first of Twitter’s cannabis advertising partners,” Pax’s vice president of marketing, Luke Droulez, said in a statement.

Others are taking a wait-and-see approach.

Thomas Winstanley, chief marketing officer for East Coast multistate marijuana company Theory Wellness, said Twitter’s new approach to cannabis advertising is “more symbolic than it is practical for our operations,” at least for now.

Winstanley said Twitter’s rules for U.S. cannabis companies are different than the social media company’s advertising rules for Canada, where Twitter already allowed advertising by legal marijuana businesses.

Twitter’s U.S. marijuana advertising rules state that advertisers “may not promote or offer the sale of cannabis,” including CBD, with an exception for topical hemp-derived CBD products containing less than 0.3% THC.

Winstanley interpreted that rule as meaning that Theory Wellness can’t chase a return on Twitter advertising spending by converting an advertisement directly into a sale.

In his estimation, though, brand-awareness promotions would be in-bounds.

Twitter has not responded to an MJBizDaily request to clarify what’s permitted under its U.S. cannabis advertising policy.

“Being one of the first brands to advertise, you get a lot of impressions and a lot of scrutiny,” Winstanley said.

“And so we will likely watch and see as this new segment of (Twitter’s) business starts to evolve and develop.”

THC brand-preference promotions permitted

Twitter “is allowing advertisers to promote brand preference and informational cannabis-related content” for CBD products, THC products and “cannabis-related products and services” such as “delivery services, labs, growing technology, search engines (and) events,” according to an email from a Twitter employee that was viewed by MJBizDaily.

According to the email, Twitter is offering a six-week advertising incentive for cannabis brands, matching new ad spending up to $250,000 on a one-to-one basis.

Amy Deneson, co-founder of the Cannabis Media Council trade organization and co-founder of marijuana advertising agency Pheno, both based in New York, said Twitter’s advertiser attestation form for promoting cannabis businesses makes those advertisers “solely responsible” for complying with applicable laws and regulations.

Publishers of cannabis advertisements usually take “some shared responsibility (where) the publisher is saying, ‘We’re going to make sure that it’s within our legal and compliance, within our community guidelines and our standards, and make sure that everybody is aboveboard,'” Deneson said.

“But with this attestation, Twitter is saying it’s entirely the responsibility of the brand advertisers,” she continued.

“I do think it’s worth noting that the brand advertisers should come very correct, then, when engaging with this platform.”

Deneson said she had conversations with Twitter ahead of the company’s advertising policy change in which she emphasized that “the cannabis sector is ready for this – they have brand dollars to spend and marketing dollars to spend.”

Will Meta, others follow suit?

As regulated U.S. cannabis companies experiment with Twitter’s new advertising opportunity, it’s unclear whether Twitter’s digital advertising competitors – such as Google parent company Alphabet and Meta Platforms’ Facebook, Instagram and WhatsApp – might follow suit and allow marijuana advertisements.

Google’s ad platform recently eased restrictions on hemp and CBD advertising in select markets but still excludes much other cannabis marketing.

“I hope that Twitter sets a good example and that more and more publishers and platforms, including Meta, see the (cannabis) sector as a thriving and vibrant and beautiful sector to engage with,” Deneson said.

Cannabis public relations executive Mattio said Twitter deserves recognition “for being the first to put their flag in the ground” and believes the U.S. marijuana industry will feel allegiance toward the privately held social media platform.

“They welcomed us with open arms; the other social networks haven’t,” she said.

Cannabis “industry advertising dollars are going to go where they’re allowed,” said Cannabis Marketing Association CEO Buffo.

“And if Twitter is allowing it, folks are going to pay attention.”

Solomon Israel can be reached at solomon.israel@mjbizdaily.com.