2022 Winner

Ontario Cannabis Store

The New Deal

Cleansheet Communications

SilverBranding Within Boundaries

The agency was challenged to create Ontario Cannabis Store’s (OCS) first-ever advertising campaign. The goal was to build interest in buying cannabis legally, instead of through the illicit grey market’s dealers, illegal websites, and dispensaries. Many established consumers were still buying the way they did pre-legalization – based on price/value and convenience. They believed that what they were buying was as good or better than what’s available through legal channels. They were also unaware their sources are not held to the same rigorous standards that legal ones are.

The federal Cannabis Act is also a whopping 128 pages, with a long list of promotion restrictions. Among them, promotion about cannabis cannot be appealing to youth, cannot evoke a positive or negative emotion (what good advertising doesn’t?) or show an image of a particular way of life. It cannot use either people or characters. Meanwhile, the target was seeing all kinds of things from the grey market.

The OCS and its federally-licensed suppliers did offer one thing the grey market couldn’t: product certainty. Their rigorous standards meant you knew exactly what you were getting. If they explored “certainty” as educational, they had more creative latitude. By contrasting the uncertainty of the grey market’s product quality with the certainty of OCS’ legal framework, they could show why it matters where you buy.

The grey market is notoriously murky. No one really seems to know where anything comes from. To dramatize this concern, they applied the illicit cannabis market’s dodgy principles to an everyday transaction – buying meat. The idea was funny – good for getting past the cynical defences of people who didn’t want to be lectured or scolded into buying legal, especially by a government entity.

Building off the insight that “life has enough uncertainties, this doesn’t have to be one of them” they created a relatable video called “Meat Bag”. The story examines the dealer/buyer relationship through a humorous lens when a local dealer shows up to sell his friend a bag of “mystery meat.” When asked where the meat is from, and the type of meat it is, the dealer has neither a clue, nor inclination to care. This leads to an unsuccessful sale – and more importantly, the thought-provoking idea: “if you wouldn’t buy meat this way, why buy cannabis like this?” Because they were focusing on education versus promotion (in fact, not
showing any actual cannabis product at all), it was reasonably low risk to use people in
the video component of their campaign.

Building on this ‘know what you’re getting,’ approach, they developed an age-gated, integrated campaign. The highly targeted creative appeared in multiple channels, including short form videos on Reddit and Twitter, static and dynamic digital display banners, multiple social posts, magazine ads + editorial inclusion, and collateral at Authorized Cannabis Stores.

Very few cannabis users were open to hearing anything from the government. But by educating in an interesting, fun way, they were able to break down barriers and stimulate interest, and surpass KPIs and benchmarks. Social media chatter tripled: OCS-related conversations were 3x the typical sample. The video had a completion rate +112% vs. the objective. The campaign deep-linked article ‘Higher Standards: Reasons to buy Legal’ was “most read” on OCS.ca1. There was increased traffic to OCS.ca2: +17.4%, and +39% in new user traffic; and OCS.ca is the #1 source of pre-purchase information (58%), ahead of Cannabis review websites (43%) and Family and Friends (38%). Legal vs. illicit sales increased to 58.8%3 during the quarter the campaign ran, indexing 137 versus a year ago, and indexing 115 vs. the previous quarter. There was +5.5% sales volume in Ontario, ahead of all other provinces’ Q3 growth. Additionally, market share of OCS.ca increased +10% versus MOM (mail order marijuana/grey market sales). Perceptions are shifting – 2/3rds of Ontarians now agree that legal is better.

Bev Altberg, VP Merchandising, Ontario Cannabis Store
Dave Rewak, Senior Director, Marketing & Consumer Insights, Ontario Cannabis Store
Kimberly Lang, Senior Marketing Manager, Ontario Cannabis Store
Neil McOstrich, Chief Creative Officer, cleansheet communications
Catherine Frank, Chief Strategic Officer, cleansheet communications
Scott Shymko, Associate Creative Director, cleansheet communications
Rich Cooper, Copywriter, cleansheet communications
JJ Bresolin, Group Account Director, cleansheet communications
Andrew Sims, Executive Producer, bestlight media
Jack Feore, Editor, bestlight media
Jordan Dashner, Director, bestlight media
Sarah Gray, Account Director, cleansheet communications
Fred Chinoy, Account Supervisor, cleansheet communications
Keenan Lynch, DOP, bestlight media
Jack Stunt, Producer, bestlight media
Kassi Bellamy, Colourist, Darling VFX & Colour
Brad Nelson, Sound Engineer, Cylinder Sound
Oleg Portnoy, Creative Director, Ontario Cannabis Store
Ryan Van Dongen, VP, Client Advice & Management, Initiative
David Lee, Manager, Communication Design, Initiative
Austin Tenhunen, Senior Communications Designer, Initiative
Shannon Stone, Account Manager, Reprise Digital
Natalia Atlija, Campaign Manager, Reprise Digital
Estefania Tellez, Associate, Digital Activation, Initiative
Allison Yolles, Account Coordinator, cleansheet communications
Carmen Toth, Senior Copywriter, cleansheet communications
J.P. Patenaude, President, The Montréal Office
Audrey Santerre, Account Coordinator, The Montréal Office

For submission inquiries, please contact Clare O'Brien at cobrien@brunico.com.
For partnership inquiries, please contact Neil Ewen at newen@brunico.com.