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The CBD industry is an exciting place to be at the moment. The huge growth potential, the implications of the Novel Food License applications, a renewed focus on traceability, medical claims vs cosmetic and wellness claims, and the ever-changing online advertising restrictions make it an interesting time for all players in the industry.

With this in mind, we recently had the pleasure of hosting Rick and Tamara from Ascend Skincare on Cude’s Rude Growth Podcast. Ascend Skincare is a newly launched cosmetic skincare brand that incorporates CBD as one of the key ingredients in its products. We took the opportunity to get their thoughts on how CBD companies conduct their marketing, whether consumers actually care about traceability and the unexplored, yet vitally important, area of carrier oils. At the same time, they were also able to shed light on some misconceptions around medical claims vs cosmetic claims.

Listen to Episode 006 of The Rude Growth Podcast featuring Ascend Skincare

I think it’s been made bigger because the CBD industry shouts so much about traceability. And I think that has almost scared the customer into thinking that is a big problem as well. We’re all arguing with each other about who’s got the best CBD when, again, that’s actually quite a small percentage of what’s in the bottle.

Rick & Tamara - Ascend SkincareThe Rude Growth Podcast - Ep002
Medical Claims vs Cosmetic Claims

There’s a lot of confusion around what you can and can’t say about CBD. But it’s actually quite simple. Medical claims require clinical trials to back them up, and the product needs to be approved for sales as a medical product.

As Tamara explains, “You cannot sell a cosmetic as a medical product for a medical condition. We can’t even say ‘psoriasis cream’ because psoriasis is a medical condition. So, all it would take would be a single letter to the ASA, and that product would be off the shelf.”

Cosmetic products are different, and to understand why you need to look at the strict definition of what constitutes a cosmetic product.

A cosmetic product is about improving the appearance or smell of something or cleaning it, or changing its colour. According to Tamara, “it is very much a superficial thing. While we know that skincare, especially natural skincare, does help with skin issues, it’s registered as a cosmetic product. Therefore, we can’t say that it’s actually for these medical conditions.”

For example, if you want to sell cream for psoriasis, you have to have it clinically tested and you need to have it approved for sale medical product because psoriasis is a medical condition.

So, if you can’t say psoriasis, what claims can you make? Well, anti-ageing is one, because ageing isn’t classed as a medical condition.

Transparency and Carrier Oils

There’s a lot of talk in the industry about the traceability and sustainability of the CBD used in products. But, CBD content is only a small part of the end product, often 5% or less. So, while the focus has been on CBD, the more important consideration is actually the carrier oil.

Many CBD products use MCT oil which can be derived from palm oil or coconut oil (often a combination of both), and both of which can have a devastating impact on the environment. Most coconut oil is harvested by monkeys who are chained to the tree, because they’re 5 times more efficient than humans. And as Rick accurately puts it, “so everyone’s talking about the traceability of the cannabis plant, but at the same time, you might have coconut oil in the product where monkeys have been exploited.”

If the MCT has been derived from palm oil, not coconut oil, that opens up a whole new debate. Palm oil producers “destroy rainforests, drain carbon-rich peatland and violate the human rights of workers and local communities” according to EthicalConsumer.org.

In Tamara’s experience with CBD companies, “I would ask them, what’s the composition of your MCT or what percentage is palm derived percentages is coconut-derived? And they have no idea.” Then, “If it was an MCT, then the brand usually didn’t know whether it was palm oil, whether it was coconut, and then didn’t know whether it was sustainably sourced or not.” In essence, brands don’t take the time to look at the traceability of any other ingredients in the CBD product because they only care about the CBD and don’t actually put any real thought into how the carrier oil is affecting the final product.

Therefore, alternatives to MCT oil need to be considered. Technically, any oil can be a carrier, but some are better than others. An ingredient like squalene, for example, is an excellent alternative for cosmetic CBD products because there are studies that have shown that using squalene helps to increase the bioavailability of the CBD when applied topically. “It’s especially relevant for transdermal CBD as opposed to topical CBD” explains Tamara. “The molecular structure of squalene is pretty much identical to the skin’s own natural sebum, so the skin recognises it as non-foreign and then accepts it more readily and then it carries that CBD molecule deeper into the skin a lot quicker than with other carrier oils that have a different molecular structure.”

Looking specifically at the pharmaceutical side of topical and transdermal CBD products, squalene is, therefore, an important carrier oil. Tamara also adds, “we’re also looking at all the other ingredients because CBD is only a small percentage of the actual formula, and you don’t want the entire story to be about just putting CBD on your skin.”

Does the consumer care about traceability?

Internally in the cannabis industry, there is an issue with traceability, and there is an issue with sourcing and supply chain. So, for CBD brands, that is a big thing, but it doesn’t mean that it’s an important issue for the customer.

As Rick shares, “I think it’s been made bigger because the CBD industry shouts so much about traceability. And I think that has almost scared the customer into thinking that is a big problem as well. We’re all arguing with each other about who’s got the best CBD when, again, that’s actually quite a small percentage of what’s in the bottle.”

Tamara also adds, “Your carrier oil is immensely important to how well your CBD is going to be delivered to the bioavailability to help to multitask. It is whether you can use it for different things in different ways.”

How CBD Companies Conduct Their Marketing

The majority of CBD brands focus on explaining precisely how their plant was harvested or dried using words like traceability and sustainability. But there’s a disconnect happening and brands need to understand their customers better. Customers want to have a different conversation, which will then translate into how your customers interact with your brand, and whether you can make them feel passionate about it.

Tamara puts it like this, “I think often what brands think that their clients will be passionate about is not what the customer is actually passionate about.”

Rather than always focusing on why their CBD content is the best, the conversation needs to be around:

  • Why the product exists
  • What the product does
  • How the product can help you
  • Ways in which the product can be integrated into your lifestyle

That’s what customers actually want to know. And this is an opportunity to create some personality around the brands.

As Rick puts it, “Consumers couldn’t care less about all of this different stuff. The cannabis industry just looks so one dimensional at this point. But actually, there are loads of compounds in loads of these oils.”

Rick shared the example of a car salesman trying to sell a potential client a Ferrari, explaining the acceleration it offered and the vehicle’s top speed. That’s all well and good, but if the guy turns around to you and says, ‘but I’ve got three kids, and I’ve got a 50-mile commute every day’, you can see how the pitch doesn’t match what the customer wants. The better approach is to listen to the customer. They’ll tell you what they’re looking for, and then you can make recommendations.

In this industry, cannabis is the car, and maybe that’s enough to help sell it, even if that’s not a great message and a great brand story, because cannabis is kind of cool and kind of alluring enough that brands are always going to sell some products.
Like Rick says, “If you stick a weed leaf on something, it becomes a little bit saleable. But as the industry progresses, the conversation is going to have to move on because, at some point, consumers are going to need more of a connection to the brand.”

Having been a part of the CBD industry for three years, we’ve had the same conversations with hundreds of brands. Not enough people are focusing on telling a story, and most don’t seem to be interested in taking a step back to look at the whole product, not just the CBD content.

The industry continues to change and develop. As customers become more familiar with CBD, the conversation will need to shift away from traceability to one that focuses on meeting the customer where they are at and addressing their specific needs.

The full interview is available on the Rude Growth podcast on both Spotify and YouTube.

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