How a Las Vegas agency decimated by coronavirus-related client cuts banded together to create a cannabis ad
Artisans on Fire—a small Las Vegas agency specializing in “grey market” industries like cannabis and gambling—finished last year on a high note, and had plans to keep the momentum going well into 2020.
Then the coronavirus hit. The shop’s largest client, the Strat Hotel, Casino and Skypod, stopped work on a planned national campaign after it suspended operations when the state of Nevada declared a state of emergency earlier this month. “We lost 25 percent of our revenue literally within the first 24 hours of Las Vegas shutting down,” says Dustin Iannotti, the agency’s co-founder and creative director. “We were basically in survival mode.”
The agency—which had been posting 200 percent growth with plans to hire five employees in the coming weeks—was now facing layoffs and was forced to shed eight of its 20 employees. But like so many businesses trying to make the best of a bad situation, Artisans on Fire kept plugging away, and this week is rolling out a new campaign for another client, Thrive Cannabis Marketplace, a marijuana dispensary that it began working for in 2016.
While the state of emergency has shut down in-person dispensary visits, outlets can still run delivery services. So, Artisans on Fire’s campaign is aimed at driving more of that business for Thrive. The ad features close-ups of people’s eyes as they talk about the anxieties caused by the pandemic, from fear of getting sick to losing their jobs. Then the doorbell rings and a glove-wearing person drops off a bag of Pistola cannabis, a brand sold by Thrive. The implication is that pot can take a little of the edge off.
Iannotti says the agency assembled the ad in 48 hours, all while working remotely. The spot uses existing footage that had been intended for a different ad for Thrive. The eyes in the ad belong to agency employees, including some who were recently laid off. To repurpose the spot, the agency dropped audio equipment off at the houses of the employees in the ad, so they could record the new voice-overs.
“We all banded together,” Iannotti says, noting that even the people who lost their jobs willingly pitched in. The ad will run on Thrive’s website and social channels, along with some digital networks that permit cannabis ads, Iannotti says.
Meantime, he’s already plotting a comeback, including luring back the Strat and another major client. “We hope to get both clients back and all employees once this is all over,” he says.