How to market CBD online in South Africa

By: Zani Botes and Joshua Oates

Marketing cannabidiol (CBD) online is a tricky endeavour. While CBD is not a drug – it does not make you high or inhibit mental functioning – it is an extract from a cannabis or hemp plant. As such, it is commonly associated with cannabis and drugs. While public perception is slowly shifting, many social media channels and search engines still penalise content that tries to market CBD.

There are certain ways to circumvent the topic – to market CBD and not raise any flags with online platforms. Online marketers need to be aware of these issues so that they can help their CBD clients build audiences and promote their natural products on the web. The information in this article is subject to change in the future, as more online platforms realise that CBD is a 100% natural compound with many health benefits.

What is CBD and why is it flagged?

Most content revolving around CBD is flagged by social media platforms, although it is not a drug. CBD is a botanical compound that is extracted from hemp. It is non-addictive and does not have psychoactive effects on the brain (it does not produce a high). CBD does have a relaxing effect on the mind and body; it helps to lower the heart rate and regularise breathing.

CBD also has multiple health benefits, making it an effective natural remedy for stress, anxiety, insomnia, skin conditions, pain, aches and many more ailments. These compounds have been used for therapeutic purposes for just under 5000 years. However, scientific research on CBD has only expanded since the 1990s. 

Many countries around the world have now made CBD legal for consumption and healthcare purposes. South Africa recently announced the legalisation of marijuana for private consumption. However, CBD is still a red flag for Facebook, Instagram and other social media channels, where algorithms automate the scanning of content and advertisements.

What our research has shown

Our in-depth involvement with the topic has shown that it is possible to pass the algorithm scans of social media companies, as long as marketers do not blatantly breach their advertising policies. There are a number of forbidden keywords associated with CBD and cannabis that should be avoided in article copy, landing pages, URLs, snippets and metadata.

Similarly, brand names should not contain any of these flagged keywords or derivations thereof. Words such as ‘cannabis’, ‘weed’, ‘pot’, ‘canna’ and ‘THC’ are immediately picked up by the algorithms and flagged. Adverts, campaigns, brand names and articles containing these keywords will most likely be banned from promotion on social media channels.

Once these platforms disapprove of these adverts and articles, it is very difficult to recover a campaign. The best option is to trigger a manual review with an actual employee who can review the company policy and see that your campaign does not breach these rules. If your campaign is found to break these policies, the entire brand page will be flagged and possibly removed.

However, content that is genuinely educational and does not support the sale of illicit products will be approved by social media representatives. The content surrounding CBD products and brands should always be factual, educational and relevant to the target audience. The quality of the articles written and shared will directly impact the chances of success.

Content guidelines when it comes to CBD brands

High-quality content that is packed with information is more trustworthy. Content campaigns need to focus on relevance and information. The more relevant and educational your articles, the more authoritative and trustworthy your brand. These are big boxes to tick when it comes to marketing CBD online.

A good content strategy will drive organic traffic from search engines and social media channels to the website, without having to rely on paid advertising. This reduces the risk of being flagged on social media platforms, but if your content does not breach advertising policies, you should be fine anyway.

The flagged keywords mentioned earlier can be used in the content, so long as it is for educational purposes and does not promote the sale of marijuana or the illicit use of cannabis-related compounds. Online platforms, such as Google and Facebook, know that around 80% of consumers will conduct research into CBD before making any purchases. This means that educational content is highly relevant and important.

Online marketers are free to use these keywords for SEO purposes, but not for paid advertising campaigns. Content marketing, blogging and SEO campaigns should focus on popular CBD-related questions and concerns, so it is often necessary to use words such as ‘THC’ and ‘cannabis’.

What to avoid in online campaigns

Our research has shown that social media platforms are absolutely strict on the advertisement of controlled and illegal substances. These cannot be promoted in any way. Adverts on social media must not promote the sale or use of marijuana, whether prescription or recreational. 

These platforms also do not allow the promotion of tobacco-related products, e-cigarettes (vapes) or hookah pipes, so no CBD content should involve these products either. Similarly, Facebook and Instagram will not allow the promotion of untested remedies or any medical products, such as injectables. Cosmetic products are also flagged, so cosmetic CBD skin creams are likely to be caught by the algorithms.

How to market CBD on social media channels

The promotion of hemp-based CBD products with little-to-no THC is acceptable in countries where CBD is legal. Likewise, adverts dealing with investments or stocks in marijuana projects are also allowed. However, the best way to market CBD products is to make the content about lifestyle and wellness, rather than the CBD itself.

Many companies have had success by taking this approach. There are numerous examples of CBD companies that have opted to target the health and wellness market and pitch their products as lifestyle enhancers that can help consumers deal with a variety of ailments in a natural way. By marketing a feeling or belief, rather than a product, it is possible for CBD brands to succeed with online campaigns.

Energy drink brands are perfect examples of this. Red Bull has built its entire marketing strategy around extreme sports and adrenaline, rather than its drinks. CBD brands can learn from these businesses and create marketing strategies around lifestyle and fitness, instead of CBD and hemp. 

Highlights from our research on CBD marketing

  • CBD brands should consider marketing a feeling or lifestyle, rather than a product.
  • Most people still think that CBD and cannabis are the same things, so transparency, education and trust in CBD advertising are essential.
  • Millennial women are the most avid CBD fans and they desire products that are formulated and sold in a certain way.
  • Most CBD marketing is boring. If a brand wants to engage audiences, it needs to be bold. 
  • Original, educational content is the safest and most successful route to take.
  • Facebook does not allow adverts for cannabis-derived CBD, but it does allow hemp-derived CBD.
  • Facebook has recently loosened its CBD advertising policies but only a narrow category of CBD adverts will pass the automated filters and algorithms.
  • Instagram can permanently shut down an account that tries to sell a cannabis-related product, so CBD brands need to be very careful on this platform.
  • Pinterest does not currently allow the advertising of products made from CBD, hemp or their derivatives. 
  • Google Ads also has some progress to make – violating its policy against the promotion of CBD products will usually result in disapproved ads or permanent suspension of an account.
  • Snapchat takes a more liberal approach to CBD adverts and, as a result, is one of the most effective social platforms for CBD brands.


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Written by WaysTo Editor

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