Most CBD business owners, especially in the start-up phase, get their websites up, ensure they have stock of their products, then start looking for ways to promote their brand. Unsurprisingly, Google Ads is usually top of their list.
Google is the largest digital ad seller through its Google Ads platform. Last year alone, they sold over $100 billion in ads, accounting for 31% of ad spending worldwide. That’s over a third more than it’s closest competitor, Facebook Ads, at $67 billion.
Google ads remain popular because they work. They target a buyer who has shown specific interest in a topic, and you can reach that buyer at the exact moment they want to make a purchasing decision. But, unfortunately for CBD businesses, the digital advertising platform prohibits the direct promotion of cannabidiol products.
What is Google’s standpoint on CBD?
Before we get into the nuts and bolts, let’s do a quick refresh on Google’s CBD stance. It’s important to understand that Google prohibits the advertising of CBD on its platform. Like many other US-based companies (including Amazon and Facebook), Google’s advertising policy clearly states that the promotion of CBD is prohibited, whether or not it is legal.
While hemp-derived CBD is legal under the 2018 Farm Bill, there is still the need for a regulatory framework to be developed and it hasn’t yet been established in all states. The consequence of this, because Google is registered in the States, they can’t allow the sale of CBD.
CBD is explicitly mentioned in Google’s list of unapproved pharmaceuticals and supplements. That’s pretty clear. But if you type CBD into google.co.uk, you still many ads promoting CBD (albeit indirectly). So, what is going on?
What is the difference between hemp oil and CBD oil, and how do companies use that to their advantage?
CBD oil is made from the flowers, stalk and leaves of the hemp plant where cannabidiol is found. In contrast, hemp oil (or hemp seed oil) is made from only hemp seeds and contains little to no CBD and, therefore, doesn’t offer the same benefits as hemp-derived CBD oil.
This is important because CBD oil and hempseed oil are in the same cannabis family and are therefore often promoted as being the same thing, even though they’re completely different. But why would a brand do this? It’s one of the main ways that companies try to get around Google’s CBD ban. The ad copy would only reference hemp oil, while the keyword the company is targeting would be CBD-related. It’s counterintuitive as CBD has a much higher price point, but their thinking is that if they can get the user to click through to their site, they have a good chance of getting the sale.
How are companies getting around Google’s CBD ban?
There are two main ways that companies try to get around Google’s ban on CBD:
Option 1 – Advertise CBD products directly
This approach usually has a two-day shelf life. A CBD company will set up standard search ads and drive visitors to a CBD product page on their website. The campaign will usually only run for a day or two before Google gets around to crawling your landing page and the rest of your website, and the result is that your ads will be disapproved. In most cases, a search ad campaign like this will get shut down within two weeks, but it’s usually a few days. Best case scenario is that your ads will be disapproved, worst case is a permanent suspension of your account. Google may even go so far as to flag your website or billing details which makes it close to impossible to create a new account.
Option 2 – Get creative and promote your CBD product indirectly
Setting up a new Adwords account every two weeks is not a practical solution which is why this alternative is the one most commonly used. The method still operates in a grey area, so it’s best to create a new Google Ads account specifically for CBD advertising. This is to protect you if you sell other products through Adwords as you still risk having your account flagged.
Set up a campaign as you usually would, inputting your budget and location, and set the campaign type to “Paid Search Ads”. Keyword selection, as always, is important, and should include terms such as “CBD” and “hemp”.
Then its time to get creative. When you’re writing the ad copy, you have to avoid promoting the product directly, and instead use terms that hint at the products you sell. This might include terms such as “hemp oil”. The link that visitors click on once they’ve seen your ad should take them to a landing page on your website that promotes your CBD product but does so indirectly.
What are the risks of promoting your CBD products on Google Ads?
There are a myriad of risks that you expose yourself to if you decide to try and circumvent Google’s Adwords policies, not least account closure, misleading clients and potential damage to your brand.
Even if you are only referencing hemp in the ad copy and sending visitors to a hemp oil product page, you are still at risk of having your account shut down. There are many instances where a company advertising a completely legal, non-CBD product, have been shut down because the site sells other CBD products.
It’s also not ideal from an ethical standpoint. If you are targeting the keyword “CBD”, and advertising hemp oil in the Adwords copy, you are basically misleading the customer to click on the website.
Damage to Your Brand
Most reputable, well-established CBD companies steer clear of using Adwords choosing to respect Google’s decision to exclude CBD from their list of allowed supplements. Instead, they focus on other online channels to market their products and educate consumers about CBD. This means that you have a decision to make, do you want to sell your product using Google Ads and risk increasing the stigma that is already associated with CBD while at the same time potentially damaging your brand? Or do you want to take a more long-term view and put effort into building your digital assets with a focus on educating consumers and building customer loyalty?
What do we think?
Having worked with CBD clients operating in the UK for the past three years, we’ve seen many Adwords accounts being shut down, and it’s not worth the risk. In some cases, Google goes as far as to ban the billing method used, making it difficult to open another account.
Many CBD companies would argue that it is possible to advertise CBD on Google without going against their ad policy. To do this, they rely on ‘creative wording’ to find a way to promote CBD products on the platform. In this way, they would say that you can avoid the risk of violating Adwords terms and conditions entirely.
From our perspective it also strays into grey moral territory and, in an industry that is still struggling to shrug off the associations with marijuana and a ‘stoner’ culture, this is yet another way that companies are bringing CBD companies into disrepute.
It’s hugely tempting to go ahead with Google Ads to promote your CBD products, especially when you see so many other CBD companies benefiting from the loophole that allows them to promote CBD indirectly. Personally, we do not believe this is a sustainable model and will always advise clients to pursue other above-board methods for promoting their products.