Clever ‘Next to Stok’d’ ads fool social media

Published on March 1, 2024 by David Wylie

Photo: Contributed
Spectrum Electrical was one of the businesses that participated in the 'Next to Stok'd' marketing campaign. Actors were hired for the ads.

One of the most frustrating challenges for those trying to promote their cannabis stores are outright bans on by social media platforms.

However, Ontario’s Stok’d Cannabis has found a funny little loophole that they’ve been successfully exploiting. An ad campaign—called ‘Next to Stok’d’—involves the store’s neighbours and piggybacks onto their social media accounts to distribute ads that would otherwise get flagged by Instagram and Facebook.

“It pushes the envelope but it also gets the job done,” says Lisa Bigioni, co-founder and CEO at Stok’d Cannabis Co.

“It’s one thing to have to adhere to the regulations. It’s another to have to deal with social media companies when cannabis is legal in Canada but they don’t see it that way.”

She says she believes the ads are in compliance with the Cannabis Act—“It wasn’t that we were trying to skirt.”

Bigioni says Stok’d has lost its Instagram account about half a dozen times, and experience shared by many cannabis brands.

Trying to place an ad through a cannabis-associated handle often results in an account ban.

However, the Stok’d ads were posted through accounts representing a nail salon, used bookstore, and local electrician. (They are worth a watch!)

“They went out and no one stopped them, even though there were numerous cheeky references,” she says. “It didn’t surprise me that they slipped through. Because it wasn’t coming from us, I just assumed it would work.”

Neighbouring businesses hopped on board as an opportunity to get some advertising for themselves without paying for it, says Bigioni.

Stok’d ad campaign a success

While Stok’d is currently collecting data, the campaign looking like a success. Stok’d has seen an increase in loyalty sign ups, and they’ve had a few earned media stories (including this one).

“People are coming in and talking to us about the ads,” she says.

“We waited a few weeks before we said anything,” she adds, explaining they allowed the campaign to run for about a month for fear of the ads being removed.

“This was a pretty big venture for us,” she says.

The campaign was hatched after Bigioni met the CEO of Angry Butterfly, and they got to chatting about the challenges of advertising cannabis. The marketing company came up with the concept.

“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,” says 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 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. so they wouldn’t buzzkill the campaign.

Stok’d has four locations, three in Scarborough and one in Niagara Falls.