Campaign of the Week

19 March 2024

Pot shop promotes neighbours to dodge advertising restrictions 

Canadian cannabis retail chain Stok’d creates ads for neighbouring stores to boost its own profile while staying the right side of the letter of the law.

Despite Canada’s legalisation of cannabis for both recreational and medicinal purposes, the Canadian Cannabis Act prohibits marketers from showing weed products, associated paraphernalia and store interiors, and they can’t even mention the effects of the drug.

To circumvent the rules, cannabis chain Stok’d created an ad campaign based around the neighbouring businesses of four of its stores that featured not-so-subtle nods to its address and weed-based wares.

The Next to Stok’d ads focus on adjacent establishments, featuring their owners (played by actors) covertly promoting Stok’d and cannabis in general with various weed-based puns, alongside sneaky shots of its shopfronts with the dispensary.

The ad for NuNail features the owner encouraging people to visit her store conveniently located 'right beside Stok’d Cannabis’. If you’re ‘looking for the dopest nails in town’, she says, you should visit NuNail beauty spa. ‘Our design is anything but half-baked, whether you’re feeling a hit of something blazing, or more of a chill vibe, we’d be happy to hook you up,’ she adds.

The media plan included outdoor, radio, and geo-targeted online ads. The campaign launched on 29 January 2024.

The agency behind the campaign, Angry Butterfly, Toronto, only talked about the ads to the press after the campaign had concluded to avoid alerting the platforms that ran the ads.

Results / According to the agency, Stok’d in-store sales are up by 8%, online sales are up by 12%, and new online user checkouts are up by 40% since the campaign began.

Contagious Insight 

Bypassing restrictions / This campaign is a great example of how creativity can help brands circumvent advertising regulations with panache. In his book Predatory Thinking, Dave Trott talks about how challenges are often great opportunities to get creative. When presented with an advertising problem – like, say, promoting something you can’t show, or even mention – marketers have to go beyond what they think they know, and create something altogether different. In short, being forced to find a loophole can spur you to be more creative, and result in more interesting work.

Confronted with prohibitions on showcasing its products and stores, Stok’d used neighbouring businesses as a workaround, and created a noteworthy, amusing piece campaign in the process.

When it comes to marketing, creativity isn’t just a nice-to-have buzzword, it drives sales. A 2023 Kantar x WARC report highlights that the most creative and effective advertisements generated over four times the ROMI (return on media investment)  profit with highly creative ads generating a 6.62 ROMI versus 1.42 for ads with a low creative quality. For Stok’d, embracing creativity is a strategic choice – a proven pathway to enhanced success and returns.

Community member / By enlisting neighbouring businesses to endorse it in a light-hearted manner, the Stok’d campaign portrays itself as a friendly face within the community.

The humorous undertone of the ads is engaging and injects some fun into the execution, and it also serves to counteract potential negative associations with the product. This community-oriented approach contributes to reshaping perceptions, portraying the dispensary as an approachable local space. It echoes and bolsters the playful brand personality that the brand describes on its website: ‘definitely not a boutique’ but a store with a ‘neighbourhood vibe’.

This is crucial as the lack of brand recognition (due to stringent ad regulations that restrict marketing possibilities) is one of the reasons cited by some for Canada’s struggling legal cannabis market, as reported on by the BBC last year. When barred from advertising their products and locations, brands have to ‘lower their prices and offer other incentives to compete with other stores nearby’. Strong, creative ads, like Next to Stok’d, allow brands to find differentiation elsewhere than in price promotions and can help brands stand out in the competitive cannabis market. 

In 2020, Omar Yar Khan, national cannabis sector lead at the consultancy firm Hill & Knowlton, stated the issue in the Guardian: ‘There are strict rules around advertising for cannabis companies. It’s very hard to draw loyal consumers away from the illicit market to a legal market when there is very little brand identity among the consumer groups.’

With this campaign, Stok’d at once bypasses legal constraints, captures interest with humour and showcases a community-friendly image that gives it an edge in the difficult cannabis landscape.

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