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Cannabis Retailer Skirts Ad Rules With Help From Neighbors

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For the dopest mani-pedi in town, head over to Nu Nail where the designs are “anything but half baked.” And if you’re looking for something a little more cerebral, try Cliffside Books for “high-quality inspiration” while pondering existential questions like: what came first, the flower or the seed?

Ads for these Toronto-based businesses—slightly cheesy and charmingly lo-fi—are, in fact, touting acrylics and bestsellers. They’re also not-so-subtly promoting the weed shop next door, a dispensary chain called Stok’d, whose agency hacked the stringent Canadian advertising rules for a first-of-its-kind campaign.

By partnering with neighboring businesses, Stok’d and Angry Butterfly launched a “legal-ish” campaign that managed to buy media on Google, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, Spotify and other seemingly impenetrable “buzzkill” channels, per the indie agency’s partner and CEO Brent Choi.

Hiding in plain sight and lacing the scripts with THC-spiked innuendos, Stok’d got face time alongside florists, sub shops, electricians and other merchants for a month-long social video and out-of-home campaign now in its final days.

“Technically we’re not doing anything wrong, and we can argue that everything is legal,” Choi told ADWEEK. “Still, we were a bit nervous that the campaign would get shut down or we’d get fined or kicked off the platforms.”

A ‘pirate’ industry

The U.S. has its own complicated guidelines on how weed companies can advertise, with rules varying from state to state. Federal prohibition means that many major media channels—TikTok, Google, Instagram and others—reject cannabis marketing wholesale.

In Canada, where cannabis has been federally legal since 2018, the regulations are far stricter. Brands can’t buy billboards, radio or newspaper ads, and they can’t use testimonials or endorsements touting sale prices and physical effects of a dispensary’s product. In fact, the ads can’t use people at all or show the inside of any government-licensed weed retailer.

Though the industry has become more mainstream, it retains a “pirate” vibe, Choi said, and new client Stok’d was open to a slyly covert concept that tested boundaries.

It was the “playful and entrepreneurial approach” that appealed to the leadership at Stok’d, according to Lisa Bigioni, CEO and co-founder of the chain. “Once we learned more about how it would work, we realized it was an incredibly innovative way to promote our stores.”

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