With consumers spending more time outdoors since the pandemic, out-of-home media has become an increasingly popular option for marketers, and cannabis businesses are no exception. However, in the cannabis industry, marketers must be cognizant of the laws of the state where they are advertising, because marketing and advertising regulations differ across the country.
Nevertheless, the use of OOH advertising has considerable promise for cannabis marketers. OOH advertising includes physical assets in a range of spaces that are rentable for message placement, such as signs on commercial buildings or billboards located along roads and highways. Billboards are one of the oldest forms of traditional media, yet they’re still an effective means for advertising.
Although billboards are the most popular form of OOH, ads are easily placed on public trash cans or the baggage carousel at the airport. They are set throughout the community and appear regularly in the public eye. Because billboards are a local medium, they can be used to target groups in a specific city or state, which is well aligned with current cannabis regulations.
Additionally, some billboards are dynamic media, with messages and brands that can change continually due to digital technology. This allows the advertiser to modify messages throughout the day or share costs with other brands by rotating sponsors. This technology also allows for customization of the message or incorporation of real-time data, as well creating more visibility at night.
Yet another advantage of billboards is they are immune to ad blockers, a tool more and more consumers are using. If people are out and about, they will likely come in contact with billboards.
However, several states do not allow billboards or out-of-home advertising for cannabis while other states have strict requirements to ensure cannabis advertising is primarily targeting an audience of 21 and older. OOH advertising is generally prohibited near locations such as schools, churches and playgrounds. Several states specifically note that cannabis ads cannot be placed within 500 feet from these locations.
Even when companies follow advertising and marketing regulations, it is hard to completely shield minors from billboards, indicating the importance of maintaining ethical practices along with following the state’s laws. It is critical to maintain ethical standards when creating billboards because even when regulations are followed, it is inevitable that people who cannot legally buy the product are exposed.
Moreover, certain placements may affect other vulnerable groups as well. Therefore, consumers and public policymakers remain on guard to ethically police such messages. These issues are not unique to cannabis marketing; they have been acknowledged for years when dealing with products such as alcohol, gambling and tobacco (although tobacco ads have been permanently banned from billboards).
Creating effective billboards
To maximize the effects of billboard advertising, follow some basic marketing principles, while adhering to the legal specifications.
– Select appropriate locations consistent with the target market: This means adhering to laws regarding billboard placement locations while researching the most effective roadways and neighborhoods. For example, locating in an area with a cluster of bars may prove to be an effective, ethical and legal choice.
– Fit the message with the market: Ensure your key points fit the location of the billboard. Capitalize on the local and niche market the billboard offers.
– Find competitive locations: If cannabis billboard advertising is legal in the area, there is likely competition nearby. Look to disrupt the competitor through strategic placement.
– Use key words and short phrases: Brevity is important on billboards, but the words must generate recall. Also be sure the words are legally allowed.
– Utilize appropriate fonts: The billboard must be readable from a range of distances. The size and type of font will affect processing of the message. Make sure the result is simple to read.
– Use appropriate colors and creative contrast: Eye-catching billboards generally include bright colors and sharp contrasts that people will process easily.
– Keep it simple: Although there is some dispute on the ideal number of words/visuals, a maximum of seven words and three visuals is a common recommendation. Also, making a visual larger than life can create a memorable message.
As marijuana laws continue to change, cannabis marketers must stay on top of current regulations and utilize strategies to best advertise their products. Billboard advertising, one of the most popular types of OOH advertising, has many benefits compared to other advertising. Cannabis businesses should continue to explore this medium as an effective and cost-efficient advertising approach to build their brand amid the increasingly complex regulations of advertising and marketing.
Marla Royne Stafford, Ph.D., is the William F. Harrah Distinguished Chair and Professor of Marketing at the University of Nevada-Las Vegas. She is the owner and president of MBR Enterprises, a full-service marketing and advertising consulting firm. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.