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  • October 22, 2019

    Advertising CBD Online – USA Triathlon Pure Spectrum CBD Partnership

    On October 21, 2019, USA Triathlon announced its partnership with Pure Spectrum CBD, and became the first U.S. National Governing Body in the Olympic and Paralympic Movement to formalize a partnership with a CBD (cannabidiol) manufacturer. Personally, I’m excited about this partnership as I am an age group triathlete who uses CBD products, more specifically hemp balm, as part of my recovery routine. This partnership further legitimizes CBD as a safe, effective, natural pain reliever and muscle relaxant.

    Starting in 2018, WADA (World Anti-Doping Agency) and USADA (U.S. Anti-Doping Agency) removed cannabidiol (i.e. CBD oil) from the prohibited list under the S8 Cannabinoids category. Synthetic cannabidiol is not a cannabimimetic; however, cannabidiol extracted from cannabis plants may contain varying concentrations of THC, which remains a prohibited substance. Synthetic cannabinoids, e.g. Δ9-tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and other cannabimimetics, continue to be prohibited. These rules apply to both professional and amateur athletes participating in any sort of sanctioned event.

    For the general population, CBD became legal in the U.S. with the passing of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 (aka the Farm Bill). In the past 18 months, there has been an explosion of CBD products available to the public. Stores specializing in CBD merchandise are popping up everywhere, and billboards and road signs advertise all sorts of CBD-infused products, and even kratom.

    While brick-and-mortar CBD stores pop up, it’s only natural that online stores selling direct-to-consumer CBD items are also prevalent. With no shortage of billboards and signs advertising CBD appearing in our day-to-day lives, it makes sense to think the digital version – search ads, display ads, social media ads, shopping ads – would allow e-commerce stores to advertise in the same way. Unfortunately, that’s not the case.

    Advertising CBD Online

    I’ve been doing a lot of research around this lately as one of my clients has a line of products that contain hemp extract. It’s a product I use myself, and it’s so popular that they can’t keep up with demand! I’m working with this client to expand their brand awareness outside of the southeast, and increase online sales in the process. Luckily, their core product is not the hemp-infused product line or else we would run across some big roadblocks.

    Direct Marketing vs. Digital Marketing

    Let’s talk about the online advertising landscape versus the direct marketing landscape, more specifically billboards, yard signs, and direct mailers. These direct marketing channels do not have a governing body that controls the content of the advertising like online advertising does. There are restrictions on direct mail placed by USPS, but the majority of these regulations are focused on unit size, not advertising content. Billboards and yard signs are basically free reign. The public can complain about the content advertised on a billboard, which has happened the past few years with the Palmetto State Armory’s Christmas-themed billboards here in Columbia, SC, but the billboards are still allowed and the outrage has created more PR for the business.

    The landscape is completely different in the digital marketing world. Online marketing is managed by the big three entities that have the most eyes – Google, Facebook, and Amazon. If you want to get your online ads in front of the most consumers, you have to engage with at least one, if not all three, of these online giants. All three of them currently, as of October 2019, prevent the advertising of CBD on their networks. You can sell CBD in an online store, but any ad created with “CBD” in the name will be disapproved and unable to be displayed.

    Promoting CBD on Google, Facebook, and Amazon

    This is a huge disadvantage for those online-only CBD retailers and those in the CBD advertising space. How are these businesses getting around it? I’ve found that Google allows ads that contain “hemp” in them, and phrases like “full-spectrum hemp”. The method of CBD consumption is important, too. Make sure that it’s topical hemp and not ingestible hemp.

    Facebook has more restrictions, but seems to have adopted the same policy as Google in the past month or so. But Facebook always has more ridiculous restrictions that are picked up by their algorithms (likely due to the Russian interference in the US elections in 2016) so I’m seeing CBD brands creating ads for “pain-relieving balm” that link to the online store for the CBD products. You can post about CBD products on your page, but you can’t boost the posts. Looking at Facebook Insights for my clients, posts about hemp and CBD get much more engagement (there are a lot of CBD fans out there!) so these posts should get more organic reach without the need to boost them.

    I have less experience with advertising on Amazon but looking at their policy, they currently prohibit selling CBD on their platform. Similar to Facebook and Google, vendors get around this by selling “hemp oil”, “hemp extract”, or “hemp oil extract”.

    Why is it so difficult to sell CBD online?

    With the restrictions placed on CBD marketing by Google, Facebook, and Amazon, selling CBD solely online is more difficult than it should be. Brand recognition is key to people finding your online store if promoting CBD is prohibited on search, social media, and Amazon. It’s likely that the team at Pure Spectrum CBD realize this, making this partnership with USA Triathlon a smart move.

    I don’t want to get into the weeds about why Amazon, Facebook, and Google have created these policies, but I do want to highlight the monopolies that they currently have in the online space. With Facebook buying Instagram and WhatsApp, it’s clear that they want to own and control the entire social media ecosystem. We need more independently-owned social media platforms like Twitter and Snapchat so that advertisers are not forced to play to Facebook’s rules for advertising. The same can be said about Google, who owns not just search but a lot of the display advertising inventory out there as well. And who is Amazon’s direct competitor for online shopping? Google Shopping is one, but it’s hard to think of another.

    In conclusion, the legalization of CBD in the past 18 months has created a gold rush of sorts for these types of products. We really are in the Wild West when it comes to the quality of products, and the advertising related to them. If you’re advertising online, your hands are tied by Facebook, Google, and Amazon. As private entities, they make their own rules, and we are beholden to them if we want to play in their space.