Cannabis Retailer Finds Loophole in Ad Ban

Cannabis Retailer Finds Loophole in Ad Ban

Published: February 26, 2024

Canadian cannabis retailer Stok'd has launched a unique campaign titled "Next to Stok'd" to navigate the country's strict cannabis advertising regulations.

Canada legalized recreational cannabis in 2018, but advertising restrictions remain tight. The Cannabis Act prohibits any advertising that depicts products, people, paraphernalia, the interior of a cannabis store or implies the effects of cannabis.

Additionally, major social media platforms like Meta (formerly Facebook) and Google often reject cannabis-related advertisements, making it difficult for retailers to reach potential customers through traditional digital channels.

To overcome these hurdles, the "Next to Stok'd" campaign, crafted in collaboration with Angry Butterfly, takes an indirect approach.

“Stok’d needed help to reach their consumers in a very restricted environment, and our team is just really great at problem solving in creative ways, and finding unconventional methods to reach people,” Erin Kawalecki, chief creative officer at Angry Butterfly, said in an interview with Ad Age.

Instead of advertising Stok'd directly, the campaign focuses on promoting the businesses located next door to Stok'd's four locations.

“Once we learned more about how [the campaign] would work, we realized it was an incredibly innovative way to promote our stores. Our neighboring businesses loved the idea, too. After all, more traffic to our stores is good for everyone,” Stok’d CEO Lisa Bigioni shared.

The campaign utilizes video ads and out-of-home advertising elements strategically placed near Stok'd stores.

A sample of how Stok'd creatively circumvented cannabis advertising laws in Canada.
An OOH activation of the "Next to Stok'd" campaign (Source: Stok'd)

The video ads feature the owners of these neighboring businesses, such as a bookstore, a nail salon and an electrician delivering carefully crafted pitches loaded with subtle cannabis references and wordplay.

For example, the owner of NuNail, a nail salon, says, "Looking for the dopest nails in town? Whether you're feeling a hit of something blazing or more of a chill vibe, we'd be happy to hook you up.”

Stok'd creatively promotes both the nail salon and its store.
Each spot ends by directing people to the store being advertised, which is beside a Stok'd store (Source: Stok'd).

Similarly, the owner of Cliffside Village Books asks, "Ready for your mind to go places you've never been? Find high-quality inspiration here, at Cliffside Village Books, next door to Stok'd Cannabis."

A third version of the ad features an employee of Spectrum Electrical, which is responsible for wiring a Stok’d store.

He then asks everyone to see Spectrum’s handiwork for themselves by visiting the Stok’d store.

“Let’s get you lit,” says Enzo from Spectrum Electrical. “Roll by Stok’d cannabis and see my work up close, in person.”

Spectrum invites people to visit the Stok'd store that they wired.
Here, Spectrum Electrical is showcasing its wiring job for client Stok'd (Source: Stok'd).

The geo-targeted campaign, aimed at individuals over the age of 21, ran across various channels, including paid social media posts, pre-roll ads, radio segments and targeted street advertisements.

The creative campaign has garnered significant attention for its innovative approach to circumventing complex advertising regulations.

“Much to our surprise and relief, not one ad was rejected when trafficked,” Kawalecki added.

The campaign's success lies in its adherence to all legal and platform-specific advertising regulations, while still achieving brand awareness through a clever and playful execution.

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