Cannabis retailer cleverly dodges ad restrictions—by promoting the businesses next door

‘Next to Stok’d,’ dreamed up by agency Angry Butterfly, takes a neighborhood approach to skirt Canada’s media filters

Published On
Feb 26, 2024
A woman showing off her green painted nails at a nail salon

Editor's Pick

The restrictions on cannabis advertising in social and outdoor media are notoriously draconian, even in places where cannabis is legal.

This is true across the U.S., where many states have legalized the drug despite it still being illegal federally. But it’s also true in Canada, where cannabis is legal at the national level for both recreational and medicinal purposes.

Ad Age Young Creatives

Enter our TikTok contest to win a trip to Cannes

Canadian cannabis companies must deal with many of the same (if not worse) advertising restrictions that U.S. companies do. The Canadian Cannabis Act prohibits any advertising that shows cannabis products, any implied effects of those products, people employed by cannabis companies, cannabis paraphernalia, the inside of cannabis stores, etc. Social and outdoor companies have various screening processes in place to catch offenders.

But now, one cannabis brand in Canada—called Stok’d—has skirted these restriction in a clever way.

Check out the spot below. It makes only a glancing reference to Stok’d, focusing instead on its next-door neighbor on Toronto’s Kingston Road—a nail salon called Nu Nail Beauty Spa.


Nu Nail’s proprietor talks up the salon in terms like “anything but half baked,” “blazing” and “chill”—which are more common in the cannabis world. Then, at the end, while showing an exterior shot of Nu Nail, the camera wobbles a bit to the left—to show Stok’d, which is the true covert star of the campaign. (The campaign was produced by Nimble Content, with Erica Orofino directing.)

“Stok’d needed help to reach their consumers in a very restricted environment, and our team is just really great at problem solving in creative ways, and finding unconventional methods to reach people,” Erin Kawalecki, chief creative officer at Angry Butterfly, told Ad Age. “Stok’d’s co-founder has a great relationship with many of her neighbors, and once she heard the idea, she basically went door to door to help bring it to life.”

Look back: Cannabis marketers divulge Twitter ad plans as rules ease

Below is a second spot, set inside Cliffside Bookstore.


The agency wasn’t sure whether the ads would pass the censors.

“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,” said Bernice Lo, executive creative director at Angry Butterfly. “We had plan B and C ready to go, just in case.”

“Much to our surprise and relief, not one ad was rejected when trafficked,” Kawalecki added.

Below is a third spot, a partnership with Spectrum Electrical.


“When we were presented with the idea from the Angry Butterfly team, we were both excited and nervous, but we loved the concept and the playful and entrepreneurial approach was a perfect brand fit for us,” said Lisa Bigioni, CEO and co-founder of Stok’d. “Once we learned more about how it would work, we realized it was an incredibly innovative way to promote our stores. Our neighboring businesses loved the idea, too. After all, more traffic to our stores is good for everyone.”

The partnerships worked well not just because the neighboring businesses got exposure, but because the ads captured some of their spirit as well.

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

Below is a case study explaining the approach in more detail.


The geo-targeted, 21+ campaign launched in January across multiple channels including paid/sponsored posts and pre-rolls, evening radio and select TSAs. The agency waited to speak to the press about the work until after the run ended, so the likes of Meta and Google “wouldn’t buzzkill the campaign.”


Feb 26, 2024
Client :
Stok'd Cannabis
Agency :
Angry Butterfly
Chief Creative Officer :
Erin Kawalecki
Chief Executive Officer :
Brent Choi
Chief Strategy Officer :
Graham Candy
VP Creative Director :
Bernice Lo
VP Creative Director :
Adam Notzl-Keyser
ACD/Art Director :
Chenice Piercy
ACD/Copywriter :
Ryan Chiasson
Art Director :
Emily Fixman
Group Account Director :
Mark Khatter
VP Head of Production :
Hanna Bratt
Producer :
Dennis Soler
Media Director :
Shubham Vijan
CEO & Co-Founder :
Lisa Bigioni
Head of Retail :
Franceso Caruso
Production Company :
Nimble Content
Director :
Erica Orofino
Executive Producer :
Andrew Lynch
Executive Producer :
Michael Corbiere
Producer :
Andy McLeod
Director of Photography :
Viktor Cahoj
Casting :
Jigsaw Casting
Casting Director :
Shasta Lutz
Post :
Recess Post
Executive Producer :
Tanja Harney
Producer :
Anu Chhetry
Post-Production Assistant :
Ben Sagar
Offline Editor :
Duane VanderMeulen
Colorist :
Zachary Cox
Audio :
Quinn Hoodless
Editorial Company :
Married To Giants
Offline Editor :
Jacqueline Leon
Offline Editor :
Korben Lirette
Assistant Editor :
Miku Sakamoto
Executive Producer :
Amanda Henry
Media :
President :
Jennifer Yang
Account Manager :
Mike Austin

Need a credit fix? Contact the Creativity Editors

Project Type