- Mainstream media has largely shied away from cannabis ads because of regulatory hurdles.
- But a martech startup called Vana claims it has proprietary age-gating and state-gating technology that can place cannabis and CBD ads that are compliant.
- It’s been running such ads across its publisher network that includes BuzzFeed, Hearst, and USA Today.
- Vana says its technology gives cannabis brands a new way to reach consumers.
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After nearly making it to the Super Bowl, cannabis ads are coming to mainstream websites.
A martech startup called Vana claims that it has built a platform that can help cannabis and CBD brands run ads legally using age-gating and state-gating technology. The company says it has signed on more than 6,000 cannabis and CBD brands and retailers and has been running ads across its publisher network that includes BuzzFeed, Hearst, and USA Today.
“The cannabis industry has gone from a cottage industry to multibillion dollar industry, and you can’t do that without tech infrastructure,” Sheldon Owen, Vana’s founder and CEO, told Business Insider. “I saw the opportunity to build a solution that helps propel these brands ahead in digital commerce while also building trust and compliance.”
Vana says it’s helping cannabis brands overcome one of their biggest headaches
Vana, founded as Muncheez in 2017, has raised $3.5 million in seed funding from investors including Dendera Capital and Upper Hill Ventures. Owen previously cofounded Unified, a SaaS marketing technology and data analytics company for social media advertising.
While the cannabis industry is attracting billions of dollars in investment, regulatory hurdles have curtailed advertising. Cannabis companies need to meet the age requirements for targeting and comply with regulations that vary at the national, state and local levels. Platforms like Facebook have banned ads for their products altogether.
Owen said Vana takes necessary precautions. It verifies the state ID of every brand before it can use its platform and only works with state-licensed cannabis and CBD companies such as Bhang and Kiva Confections. It also hosts storefronts for brands with the same standards and lets them reach more than 200 million unique customers a month through its publisher network, he said.
“We like to think of ourselves as DoubleClick meets Shopify,” he said.
Owen said Vana makes money through SaaS fees from businesses on the platform, native ad fees from its mobile app and website, and media fees for mainstream advertising.
Various industries are warming up to cannabis
With notable exceptions, mainstream media has largely shied away from cannabis ads. But BuzzFeed and Hearst are not the only ones warming up to the industry.
French ad holding network Havas this summer launched a consulting arm centered on cannabis and cannabinoids, Business Insider reported. Outside of media and marketing, law, investment banks and accounting and consulting firms have entered the industry.
Jamie Pearson, president of Bhang, said she was bullish on Vana because it solved one of the biggest issues plaguing the industry, advertising. She said she hoped that the platform would expand to include social media platforms like Facebook and Instagram.
“I have cannabis and CBD users coming to me right now, but Vana is my ticket to users that don’t exist yet,” she said. “On the CBD side of things, I’m putting more than 50% of my marketing budget on Vana.”