Ontario cannabis store finds creative way to get around social media restrictions

| David Brown

Ontario cannabis retailer Stok’d Cannabis has released a series of ads it says circumvent social media platforms’ restrictions on cannabis advertisements by promoting neighbouring brands. 

The retailer, with five locations in Ontario, collaborated with several local businesses to mention the store in relation to their own business, often employing cheeky puns throughout the ad. 

The ads included businesses like a bookstore, an electrician, a nail shop, and a sandwich shop, all located near or affiliated with the cannabis store. 

The campaign ran in January as sponsored posts on several platforms, a transit shelter, and local radio. 

Lisa Bigioni, co-founder and CEO of Stok’d, says they are still collecting data from the campaign to see how effective it was, but notes she has already seen increased foot traffic, and customers have told her they have seen the ads.

She says the ads all went out on accounts connected to the local businesses, not their account. 

She explains that the biggest challenge they were seeking to circumvent is not federal ad restrictions but enforcement of social media policies. 

“I think that the Health Canada restrictions I understand, and I think we did our part to not go against those restrictions. It’s the social media challenges that we have that I think was the bigger win. The ads were put out almost a month ago, and no one caught that there was this cheeky innuendo about a cannabis store. 

“And we know that social media accounts shut down cannabis advertising as soon as they see it and none of them caught it, and I think that was the bigger win.”

Erin Kawalecki, partner and chief creative officer at Angry Butterfly, who partnered with Stok’d on the project, says that the local businesses appreciated the approach. 

“While our goal was to promote Stok’d, it was also important to be authentic to the different
businesses we were partnering with,” says Kawalecki. “Finding that common language that promoted both was key, and a lot of fun, too.”

“The trickiest part was while we thought this could work, we weren’t entirely sure until the
ads went live and passed through all the different filters,” adds Bernice Lo, VP, Executive
Creative Director, Angry Butterfly, “We had plan B and C ready to go, just in case.”

The geo-targeted, 21+ campaign launched last month across multiple channels including
paid/sponsored posts and prerolls, evening radio, and select TSAs, but Angry Butterfly says the story was kept out of the ad industry press until the media finished its run to ensure the news didn’t reach the likes of Meta, Google, etc. to avoid pushback.

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