In 2014, virtually no one knew what a Juul was. Today, Juul has become a verb and the company has more than 70% market share of the e-cigarette market. They also have a problem. While they insist it was never their intention, Juul has exploded in popularity among minors, particularly with high school students. In fact, in a study conducted by the National Institute of Health, 16.2% of 12th graders, 14% of 10th graders, and 9.5% of 8th graders reported “juuling” in the last month. How did it happen? While there are many factors that may have contributed to Juul’s success with minors, when you look at some of their initial marketing, it’s hard to imagine it didn’t contribute.

Learning from Juul’s mistakes: How to avoid marketing your cannabis products to minors 1

Source: Stanford University’s Research Into Tobacco Advertising; http://tobacco.stanford.edu/

Between the bright colors and hip young adult models, one might wonder whether these ads weren’t intentionally designed to appeal to minors. In fact, in April 2018, the Food and Drug Administration opened an investigation into Juul for that very reason.

To their credit, Juul insists that this appeal was unintentional and have responded to the FDA’s actions extensive course-correction. They’ve thoroughly changed their branding, left Facebook and Instagram, and even committed $30 million to help combat teen smoking. Juul is taking many good steps, but it would have been better to not have to take them in the first place.

The story of Juul is a perfect case study for the cannabis industry. Just like nicotine, cannabis is for adults only. And just like Juul, it is the responsibility of canna-businesses to design and market their products so that they don’t appeal to minors. If you don’t take that responsibility seriously, you could very well find yourself in similar regulatory hot water. In this article, we’ll walk you through the steps you should take to ensure your ads are only designed for—and only served to—adults. Let’s go.

Step 1: Creating your ads

The first step to making a compliant ad is well, making an ad. There are many ways you might be inadvertently appealing to minors, from the color to the copy, to the characters input in your ads. Juul’s mistake was using fun, glamorous people in fun, glamorous situations, but there are plenty of other things to consider, like:

Adults only: This should go without saying, but any person you feature in an ad should not only be 21 or older, but they should also look 21 or older. To avoid any confusion, we recommend they look quite a bit older.

No cartoon characters or mascots: Joe Camel retired for a reason. For tobacco, the days of the cartoon sales-animal has come to an end. For cannabis, it never started. You can use artistic renderings, but not one that would fit in a Saturday morning TV lineup.

Beware sweet tooths: A large issue in cannabis advertising, particularly with edibles, is viewers confusing them with candy. Many cannabis laws limit how you can use product imagery for this very reason. If you do include your products in your ads, which we generally advise against, don’t present them as sweet or delicious.  

Words matter: Beyond the words, you should never include in your ad, like cannabis, marijuana, and THC, you should choose your words carefully. Don’t use language popular among minors. In practice, this can mean avoiding new slang or memes.

Step 2: Serving your ads

Once you’ve created a compliant ad, you’re still responsible for serving it in a compliant way. In addition to their questionable creative, Juul was criticized for some of their media placement as well. In one case, they blanketed Times Square with their original creative, where millions of minors pass by and could see it every day. These days, the majority of cannabis ads are served digitally, and there are several ways to ensure that they are only served to adults.

Age-gating: Most cannabis laws require that ads only link out to age-gated sites. You can take this a step further by serving ads on webpages that themselves use age-gating. Because cannabis blogs, like Leafly and others, are usually required to age-gate, serving ads on them can serve dual purposes of keeping minors out and better targeting cannabis-friendly adults.

Data-driven targeting: Using the extensive data we and our partners collect, we’re able to accurately segment audiences by a long list of factors like location, purchase history, and importantly, age. This allows us to target people, both on their mobile devices and at home, with incredible accuracy. Similar to age-gating above, not only ensures that your audience is of the appropriate age, but they’re also appropriately interested in your products.

Pulling it all together

So that’s one piece of cannabis ad compliance. Beyond avoiding minors, you also need to forgo medical claims, product consumption and more. For more information on those, read this article.

The cannabis industry and the rules that regulate it are ever-changing. It can be hard to keep up, but keep up you must. If your communication doesn’t comply with all applicable laws and publisher rules, it’ll get taken down whether you understand why or not. For the best results and the most peace of mind, we recommend partnering with a cannabis-focused advertising agency. It’s our job to stay up to date on the industry and guide our clients through it.

If you want to know more about how MediaJel can help guide your business to compliance and help improve its performance, drop us a line. We’d love to chat.

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