Ontario Cannabis Store wants you to stop buying from ‘your guy’

Now that stores are up and running in the province, the cannabis retailer's first campaign shows how silly it is to still buy from the illicit market.

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Three years after recreational cannabis was legalized in Canada, the Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS) is continuing its efforts to draw people away from the illicit market with its first ad campaign.

The online video leading the campaign plays around with the concept of “a guy who knows a guy,” except the guy shows up to someone’s house with a bag of meat. When the guy can’t answer questions about the meat, the message of the campaign becomes clear: if you wouldn’t buy meat like this, why would you do it for cannabis?

“With the OCS and the authorized cannabis stores, you get convenience and consistency; you know exactly what you are getting from where,” explains Dave Rewak, senior director of marketing and consumer insights at the Ontario Cannabis Store. “In a sense, we are ‘the guy.’”

Whether it is from its online platform or the licensed retailers OCS supplies, Rewak tells strategy that legal, regulated cannabis products can be traced from seed to finished product and are backed by licensed producers.

The OCS is using print and a combination of digital, display, native, and video and social to target legal-age cannabis consumers. Many of those consumers are likely to still prefer purchasing through murky grey market channels, as approximately 50% of cannabis in Ontario is purchased through legal means.OCS-know-guy-banner

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According to Rewak, in its first two years of operation the OCS focused on establishing its core services, both as a wholesaler and DTC online retailer. This was also a key period for authorized private retail store expansion across the province, marked by a change in licensing framework that led to the highly limited number of stores booming over the last year and a half.

“Before jumping out with an awareness campaign, we needed the retail stores in place and we wanted to ensure we took the time to listen to cannabis consumers and understand how they thought, felt and responded to the advent of legalized cannabis,” Rewak says.

The mix reflects the fact that many consumers prefer the in-store experience where they can be guided by an expert budtender.

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For others, they prefer to shop online, whether motivated by price, availability of certain products or the convenience of direct to home delivery.

“Many urban residents are spoiled for choice when it comes to finding a store near them, but in more remote areas of the province, online is the only option for them,” Rewak says.

Throughout COVID, Rewak says that in the cannabis market, it’s seen the shared consumption occasion change and that he sees this sticking around for the foreseeable future.  “There’s great innovation and variety in the pre-roll space and we’re excited to see that continue,” he says.

Media buyer Initiative worked closely with the media partners and creative agency Cleansheet to navigate the restrictions proactively and be in age-gated milieus.