Cannabis companies, faced with strict regulations from social platforms, are now looking to traditional marketing methods like events and merchandise to market themselves to new audiences.

Facebook and Google have approached cannabis companies the way it has the alcohol industry by banning paid promotions. Paid ads of all cannabis products are restricted from appearing in paid spots in Google search results and Facebook and Instagram news feeds, whether they are promoting legal CBD products made from hemp, or THC-infused products, which makes people high.

While there’s some cannabis brands that look to loopholes to bypass social media restrictions, such as the use of influencers, others don’t want to chance their accounts being shut down, according to Olivia Mannix, co-founder and CEO of cannabis ad agency Cannabrand.

One way is events. Starting this week, GreenRush is hosting a series of events in which cannabis brands selling on its platform will educate attendees about their products and have them delivered straight to the event. 

Denver-based dispensary The Health Center hosted its first event in September 2018, and plans on bringing more to Denver in 2019, with the goal to generate more audiences it can retain. The event was targeted to health professionals and focused around education about medical marijuana. “It has helped the brand by reaching out to a professional, historically more conservative, group that realizes that cannabis is not so taboo anymore,” said Tiffany Goldman, co-owner of The Health Center.

Merch is also growing in popularity. Cannabis companies are now selling their own branded merchandise, something that does not come with state restrictions. By selling hats, T-shirts and other items with only logos, and veering away from pot leaves or red, yellow and green Bob Marley flags, cannabis companies are getting away with marketing themselves on social media, and therefore driving new customers to its site.

Oregon-based LTRMN, a cannabis distribution company which sells marijuana in all forms through various brands like Bezel and Cabana, is currently planning its second clothing line for spring. Its first line was made up of all black hats, T-shirts and athletic socks with nothing but the embroidered white logo LTRMN on them. Mike Reeves, CEO of LTRMN, said the company has seen success with promoting posts on Instagram that only contain its clothing.

So far, the clothing line has made close to no money for the company — Reeves says it’s more of a marketing expense.

It’s not the only one taking the merchandising approach. In January, Ignite, which sells CBD drops and vapes online and through a dozen dispensaries in California, began selling its own line of merchandise online. MedMen is working on trademarking the term “cannabis” for its line of merchandise it sells at all its dispensaries. In two weeks, ZenPup, which creates CBD-infused products for dogs, will sell exclusive T-shirts online and distribute to influencers. After T-shirts will come beanies and sweatshirts, said Nicholas Weatherhead, CMO and co-founder of Zenpup, who added that the company wants it to feel like a Supreme-inspired streetwear drop.

“That reality of not having access to those digital channels shapes our whole marketing strategy,” said Reeves. “I want to brand everything.”

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