The views and opinions expressed are mine and do not represent those of my clients.
This past July, hundreds of big-name brands have joined forces with civil rights groups and pledged to pull their advertising budgets from Facebook. The boycott is in response to [what these groups say is] the platform’s inability to effectively address user-generated content that spreads hate and/or misinformation.
But what exactly do we expect the boycott will accomplish? Sadly, not much. We’ve already seen a preview of things to come during initial conversations between Facebook executives and civil rights groups. In short, they didn’t go well.
Let’s get real! When this all plays out, we’ll likely see [short-lived] positive PR for the brands that got involved, but Facebook policies will mostly go unchanged and brands will be back spending well before Black Friday.
So, while the ad boycott may not be bringing about the social winds of change brands were hoping for, it does present an interesting conundrum for hundreds of emerging brands that have been left sitting voiceless on the sidelines. Brands that know all-to-well what it means to fight for something bigger than themselves and have been asking for Facebook to come to the table for years. I’m speaking of course, about Cannabis and CBD brands, and the time has come for them to find their voices.
The CBD Market Is Growing, Despite Digital Suppression
Hemp farming, as well as the production and sale of CBD products were legalized by the 2018 Farm Bill, but Facebook, Google, and other digital platforms, have continued to ignore this national policy change. These platforms, which are essential for brand growth, have banned CBD brands from running ads for their non-intoxicating, therapeutic products. And they’ve done very little to explain why.
Early studies on CBD, along with anecdotal evidence, suggest that this ingredient can be highly useful for dealing with daily ailments like chronic anxiety, joint and muscle inflammation, insomnia, and even pain. With CBD being added to everything from topical lotions and bath bombs to sodas, chocolates, and even dog treats, it’s never been easier for consumers to find a product that works best for their individual needs. Last year, a Consumer Reports poll reported that 65 million Americans had tried CBD, with 63% of them finding it effective.
Since 2018, CBD has gained massive popularity with American consumers, with Global Market Insights predicting a growth in revenue worth up to 89 billion by 2026. Most of the market growth we’ve seen so far has happened without the help of standard growth marketing channels like Search or Social, but can you imagine how much growth could be generated if brands did have access to ad platforms like Facebook and Google?
Facebook’s Censorship of CBD Continues to Hurt Small Businesses
Despite being positioned to make billions of dollars off of the CBD wellness industry, the social media giant continues to crack down, with most of the effects being felt by small businesses. Multiple brands have exposed the arcane policies that Facebook upholds, and a group of small business owners in Tulsa, OK have even moved to take legal action against the ban on CBD advertising.
In an interview with The Verge last year, owner of Wisconsin’s Jenerate Wellness Jen Rudis said that when she put up an ad showing an image of a CBD product on her shelves, she was surprised to be met with swift and drastic action. “I tried to log into Facebook, and my entire account was deleted. I didn’t just lose ads. They deleted my entire business account — like hit the delete button,” Rudis says. “No warning, no email. No, ‘you’ve screwed up,’ no 30-day slap on the hand, literally hit the delete button, and my entire business account was gone.”
On navigating Facebook’s official policies, brand-owner Aaron Nosbich tells the Huffington Post that “It’s incredibly confusing.” The platform’s Community Standards, Pages, Groups, and Events Policy, and Advertising Policy pages all detail the guidelines for how and what brands can advertise. But the guidelines don’t mention CBD specifically, and it’s unclear as to whether it falls under the “illegal products or services,” “drugs & drug-related products,” or “unsafe supplements” that Facebook details.
Perhaps the most difficult part for brands is the lack of recourse when it comes to playing by the rules. Facebook guidelines are enforced “as determined by Facebook in its sole discretion,” allowing some brands to advertise with impunity, while others are left scrambling to figure out where they went wrong. Facebook is essentially picking winners and losers, which should never be the case. What’s worse is that when CBD business-owners try to get in touch with the platform after their ad accounts have been locked, they’ve found it nearly impossible to do so.
“When you get banned, there’s not much you can do. You can’t get ahold of Facebook. No one will help you. You’re just locked out of one of the biggest digital ad platforms in existence.” – Aaron Nosbich
Nosbich claims that Facebook advertising was a main form of traffic for his business. Military vet and CBD entrepreneur Jason Higgins agrees, saying that “It’s already hard enough to start a new business without Facebook stifling your company. How are we supposed to grow? Without the ability to advertise on these sites, we have to fight for every customer we can get.”
It’s Time for FB to Embrace CBD
Let’s bring this around full circle. Yes, Facebook should do better about monitoring posts that promote hate and/or fake news, but in the face of millions of daily posts on its platform, there are no simple solutions and vague calls for “better enforcement” are unlikely to result in meaningful change. So, while mainstream brands and social justice groups attempt to bring Facebook to its knees, the Cannabis industry should see this for what it is – an opportunity to collectively bring them to the table.
The Cannabis industry isn’t asking Facebook for sweeping policy changes or for millions of dollars of investment into moderation technology. They’re simply asking for Facebook to finally level the playing field and provide concise and uniform regulations that every CBD brand can follow. Ultimately, they want what Facebook wants – to ensure ads [for high-quality products] are delivered to of-age, in-market consumers in a safe and compliant fashion. They figured it out for liquor, why not CBD!?
As consumer appetite for Cannabis and CBD products continue to grow, Facebook should make it possible for these burgeoning businesses to safely advertise on their platform. The time is now for the Cannabis community to come together and get Facebook to the table to collaboratively pursue standardized policies on CBD ads. Policies which can eventually lay the groundwork for the broader Cannabis market in the not-so-distant future.
For the first time in a long time, the entire digital world finds itself lagging behind consumer adoption and needs to finally embrace this safe, legal, and highly beneficial product. If Facebook did decide to allow CBD ads, then Google, Twitter, Pinterest and other online gatekeepers would be forced to update their policies as well. For small CBD businesses just trying to make ends meet, as well as consumers looking to deal with new complexities of life during a pandemic, it could make all the difference.