Marketing Your ‘Taboo’ Product Shouldn’t Be A Risky Endeavor

Alcohol, gaming, marijuana and adult entertainment - here's how restricted industries can still ace in marketing

Matt Duczeminski
July 14 2018

Supply and demand. It’s the basic foundation of modern consumerism: the people demand a certain product or service, and suppliers provide access to it. The model applies to products and services that are necessary for survival (such as food and clothing). But it also applies to goods and services that exist purely for the consumer’s entertainment or pleasure, as well. Within this subset exist a number of products and services generally considered taboo, such as:

  • Alcohol
  • Tobacco
  • Adult Entertainment
  • Legal Marijuana

The companies that provide these products often face heavy restrictions regarding how they market their wares – from both a legal and societal standpoint. In this article, we’ll discuss some of the ways companies that operate in restricted industries can effectively market their brand – and gain maximum visibility from their target audience in the process.

Before we dive in, though, let’s talk about the restrictions these companies typically face.

Marketing and Advertising Roadblocks in Restricted Industries

As we alluded to above, companies within industries that revolve around risqué products and services face challenges in terms of marketing, from both a legal standpoint and in relation to the platform they wish to utilize. Let’s take a deeper look at each side of this.

Legal Restrictions

These industries face a plethora of rules and regulations regarding when, where, and how they can market their products. But, when you think about it…doesn’t this go for all industries, regardless of the product or service being advertised? Your first step should be to gain a complete understanding of the laws that apply to your industry – and your company’s specific circumstances. Such laws may apply on a federal level, such as with the tobacco industry, while others may vary on a state-by-state basis, such as is the case with the legal marijuana industry.

(Source / The UK has recently made some changes as to how cigarette packages are designed.)

Now, it’s important to recognize that these rules and restrictions are pretty much always evolving. Because of this, you need to ensure that your marketing team remains up to date with the most current version of the regulations that apply to your company. While you certainly want to instill in your marketing team the importance of staying current with the law, you also want to bring your legal and compliance teams into the mix, as well. In doing so, you’ll build a compliance review directly into your campaign-creation process, ensuring your marketing efforts adhere to the applicable guidelines. And, as we’ve discussed in a previous article, desiloing your teams can enhance communication and create a sense of synergy that allows for maximum productivity throughout your entire company.)

Proprietary Restrictions

In addition to following governmental rules and regulations, you’ll also need to consider the stipulations set forth by the specific platforms or channels you wish to utilize. Unfortunately, this may mean that certain opportunities don’t exist for your industry. Case in point: Google Shopping, Facebook Ads, and Amazon all either prohibit or heavily restrict the use of their platforms by companies involved in “taboo” or “controversial” industries.

Essentially, you have two options, here:

  • Expend time, money, and energy trying to get your company accepted on these platforms – only to be denied or, at best, restricted to the point that you can’t make your presence felt
  • Find a more efficient way to market your brand

I’ll give you one guess as to which is the better choice:

Main Keys to Marketing Your “Taboo” Brand

Here are several strategies and methods you can implement in order to gain some visibility:

1. Develop Laser-Focused Targeting

You need to know exactly who you intend to reach through your marketing campaigns and initiatives. Many of the more popular marketing channels and platforms likely aren’t available to you. Because of this, it’s much more difficult for companies like yours to fine-tune their target personas via data analysis and trial-and-error. Let’s say a more “typical” company uses Google Shopping as a main advertising platform. Its marketing team has a general idea of who their target audience is, and creates ads to cater to these personas. These initial campaigns essentially serve as a work in progress, as the marketing team can analyze and assess the success of the ads almost immediately – and learn a lot about their target audience in the process.

Unfortunately, since these more populated avenues are off-limits to your brand, this trial-and-error, tweak-over-time strategy isn’t going to work. To find this information, you first need to learn as much as you can about your target customers before you even begin thinking about the best ways to market to them. In doing so, you’ll be better equipped to create campaigns that have a high probability of hitting the mark immediately – and avoid using the “spray and pray” method of marketing.

2. Focus on Content Marketing and SEO

Content marketing and organic search are huge for companies within restricted industries. The content you create on your own website is yours. As long as you’re hosting the content on your own website, you won’t have to follow the regulations of a third-party platform (like Facebook Ads). Note: the legal regulations we mentioned above still apply to content marketing and other internally-created marketing materials. While you can’t buy visibility for your brand on Google and similar platforms, you can earn it organically by optimizing your content for search engines and other directories.

Take a look at the following example:

DixieElixers (a legal cannabis company based in various US states) provides a couple of marijuana-infused drink recipes, as well as a news article related to the end of marijuana prohibition in Nevada. Throughout the blog, you’ll find similar articles meant to inform and entertain the responsible cannabis user. There’s a saying about content marketing that goes something along the lines of “there is no boring industry, only boring content. As long as you create articles, blog posts, and multimedia specifically with your audience in mind – a focus on content marketing can create significant visibility among your target consumer segment.

3. Distribute Content Where It’ll Be Accepted

Of course, the old “if you build it, they will come” method just doesn’t work with content marketing – no matter how attractive your content is.

A more appropriate rhetoric would be, “If you post an awesome piece of content on the web, and nobody sees it, is it really all that great?”

After creating and publishing content related to your brand, you need to distribute it. Though you can’t pay for your restricted content to be plastered all over Facebook, Instagram, and similar channels, you can certainly publish it on your company’s pages within these platforms.

(Source / Get it? “Plastered”? Sorry…)


In addition to the major platforms out there, you also want to consider “getting in” with the more niche communities that exist all over the web. Take a look at the front page of this subreddit dedicated specifically to tobacco use:


Here’s another example from Reddit, in which an adult entertainer hosted an “Ask Me Anything” session:


An “AMA” session is a Q&A session hosted by a specific individual or company. Brands and other entities typically host AMAs to educate and engage with their audience, while also promoting a new product or service at the same time.

Go where your target customers are. This is the internet; no matter what industry you operate in, you’re bound to find at least a few places where your brand fits in perfectly.

4. Develop A Local Presence On and Offline

For large and small businesses alike, being present on a local level (in multiple locales, as the case may be) is incredibly important.

First, let’s talk logistics:


With a fully fleshed-out Yelp page, this legal marijuana dispensary in Los Angeles makes it incredibly easy for customers to find the shop, learn more about its products, and more. Additionally, the positive reviews, of course, add to the attractiveness of the brand, as well.

You might also consider becoming active within your local community while representing your company, as well. For example, after Hurricane Andrew devastated Miami in 1992, Heineken stepped up to the plate:


By supporting local charities and initiatives within your community, you accomplish several things. For one thing, you provide assistance to those most in need, doing your part as a member of your city, state, or even country. For your company, you not only stand to gain some major publicity and visibility, but you also prove to your community that you and your team stand for more than what some may consider a “risqué” industry.

Matt Duczeminski

Matt is a professional writer specializing in helping entrepreneurs improve relationships with their customers. He lives in Philadelphia with his wife, Sarah, and he'd probably get a lot more work done if his cat would stop bothering him.

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