Jan 24 2024
Clare McKinley

Cookieless Advertising for Cannabis Marketers


Cannabis advertisers have long had to navigate a maze of industry-specific federal, state, local, and platform-specific digital advertising regulations. On top of all that, they’ve had to adapt to signal loss across the digital advertising ecosystem, driven by factors like privacy-focused digital advertising regulations, Apple’s App Tracking Transparency on iPhone, and consumers’ data privacy demands.

Now, in 2024, they’ll have to grapple with yet another complication: Google’s phase-out of third-party cookies in Chrome. It’s a tough gummy to chew, but by understanding and investing in the cookieless solutions best suited to cannabis brands—and doing so as soon as possible—cannabis advertisers can gain a competitive edge in the privacy-first world.

To better explore these solutions, as well as the most important privacy and identity considerations for cannabis advertising, we spoke with cannabis marketing expert Jane Frye, Director of Integrated Client Solutions at Basis Technologies. Read on for her top insights on how cannabis advertisers can adapt to signal loss and the cookieless future.

What’s your biggest advice for cannabis advertisers as we move towards a cookieless future?

Jane Frye: The good news for cannabis advertisers is they’re already used to navigating limitations, so they’ll have an advantage over many of their counterparts from other industries. Advertising cannabis in the digital space is very challenging—first you have to understand the matrix of regulations, and then you have to get creative in order to really get your brand out there in a way that resonates with audiences. As a result, cannabis advertisers already have a wealth of transferable skills and knowledge that will help them to navigate the cookieless and privacy-first world.

Beyond leaning into those skills, cannabis advertisers will want to take the lead with clients in terms of educating them about privacy-first marketing. At the same time, it’s important to set realistic expectations for campaign success, as the performance benchmarks clients are used to will change as third-party cookies go away. So, make sure to communicate early and often about the implications of cookie loss and what’s possible in this new era of digital advertising.

For cannabis brands, my biggest piece of advice is to select the right partners. The most successful brands will be those who have carefully selected partners who are digitally savvy, experts in the cannabis space, and have a thorough understanding of the privacy landscape and cookieless solutions.

What cookieless marketing solutions are particularly useful for cannabis advertisers?

JF: The three that will really become cannabis advertisers’ bread and butter are first-party data, contextual advertising, and purchase or point of sale (POS) data.

First-party data is a no-brainer: It comes straight from people who have already spent with you or who have demonstrated some interest in spending, and it’s privacy-friendly to boot, so investing in the collection, organization, and maximization of that first-party data should be a priority for cannabis advertisers. Investing in something like a customer data platform (CDP), which can help not only with targeting but also with measurement, might make sense for your team if you really want to prioritize this.

Contextual targeting will also be key. Cannabis advertisers are already quite familiar with this tactic, as it’s a regulation-compliant form of advertising in many areas, and there are some prominent, high-traffic cannabis sites such as High Times, Leafly, Weed Maps and Jane that offer fantastic opportunities to connect with customers who want to learn about or purchase cannabis.

Finally, POS data can be used in the same way brands have historically used third-party data for targeting and attribution. If you’re not familiar with POS data, this is data gathered at dispensaries at the point of sale itself, such as when a customer enters their email during check out. It’s elective, so it’s privacy-friendly, and you can work with partners who anonymize that data and match it to a household ID. Using that household ID, you can then more accurately target people in different audiences—for example, people who spend over $300 per month on cannabis, people who buy edibles, or people who buy smoking devices. And once advertisers have that POS and household ID data at their disposal, they can also use it for measurement and attribution in the same way they are used to using third-party data.

One other example that I wouldn’t categorize as a “bread-and-butter” solution, but definitely something worth experimenting with, is geotargeting at big events where folks will likely be consuming cannabis. For instance, you could geotarget cities that people fly into when they’re headed to events like Coachella or Burning Man. Even things like yoga retreats or certain conferences could be ripe for location-based targeting.

Could you provide some specific examples for how cannabis advertisers might approach the cookieless future?

JF: There are a ton of startups in the cannabis space, so let’s begin with one of those as the first example. As I mentioned earlier, first-party data, contextual, and POS data should all play into your strategy. For startups, however, contextual is a particularly attractive solution, because there are a lot of very affordable and impactful placements you can buy. Advertisers should align their brands with large, high-traffic publications: They’re the first ones that come up when you search “cannabis” online, and they offer placements in email, display, and homepage takeovers. This is particularly great for startups, because it’s important for these brands to place themselves at the beginning of the consumer journey when people are trying to educate themselves.

Next, let’s dig into an example for brands who are more established in the cannabis space. Again, first-party data, contextual, and POS data will be your foundation. However, for brands who have a bit more money to spend, you could experiment with contextual placements that cost a bit more, like host-read podcast ads. Podcasts are a really impactful advertising opportunity, especially host-read ads, because podcast listeners are very engaged and tend to trust their hosts. Because of this, consumers are often more likely to consider brands they hear about via a podcast.

Wrapping Up: Cookieless Advertising for Cannabis Marketers

There you have it: By investing in first-party data, contextual targeting, and POS data, cannabis advertisers can set up systems that will pave the way to success in the privacy-first world, while honoring the demands of consumers. And if you want even more recommendations for how to succeed this year, check out 2024 Trends for Cannabis Advertisers.

Want to learn more about the state of identity in 2024? We surveyed over 200 marketing and advertising professionals to discover how they’re navigating signal loss, third-party cookie deprecation, and the shift towards privacy-first digital advertising. Check out all the latest data and insights in our in-depth report.