High Flying Creative: Martin Strazovec on "Cannabis Curation Committee Campaign"

Martin Strazovec, EVP, Chief Creative Officer for AHLOT (A Higher Level of Thought) joins Effective Perspective to share his insights and inspiration for AHLOT’s AME Gold-winning Cannabis Curation Committee campaign.

New York | December 05, 2019

Martin Strazovec, EVP, Chief Creative Officer for AHLOT (A Higher Level of Thought) joins Effective Perspective to share his insights and inspiration for AHLOT’s AME Gold-winning Cannabis Curation Committee campaign.

With a unique specialization within Canada’s newly legalized cannabis market, AHLOT is the only brand creating and selling cannabis sample packs in the country - with 5 competitors in the same box. AHLOT launched a fully compliant recruitment drive for a 5-person Cannabis Curation Committee (CCC) using multiple euphemisms for cannabis to ensure they were on the right side of the law. Their effective AME Gold-winning campaign was the inspiration behind the new category Cannabis & CBD (Products & Services).

"On behalf of our feisty little Canadian company, I'm pleased that AHLOT's Cannabis Curation Committee campaign has inspired a new award category, since our mission is to inspire the thinker in each of us."—Martin Strazovec, EVP, Chief Creative Officer, AHLOT (A Higher Level Of Thought)

AME: What was the inspiration for “Cannabis Curation Committee campaign” and what did you ultimately hope to accomplish?

Martin Strazovec: Positioning our business as Canada's cannabis curator, AHLOT needed credibility and consumer trust. We initially thought to hire a Master Curator, but quickly moved to a committee concept. A single person's credibility can be vulnerable, and their ability to relate equally well to a varied customer base is unlikely. A group of experts, on the other hand, has a much better chance of succeeding on all fronts.

The idea to do a nationwide search came from a discussion about the fact that there were few "cannabis experts" out in the open –  no surprise in a pre-legalization environment. But given that Canadians spent nearly $6 billion on black market weed in 2017, our thesis was that experts were out there in abundance. We just had to devise a way to find them. The more we developed the idea, the more public-facing it became.   

AME: You refer to the months leading up to Cannabis legalization a chapter of a Wild West industry. What was the biggest obstacle for the brand?

Martin Strazovec: On October 17, 2018, Canada's Bill C-45 legalizing cannabis became law. Prior to that day, some companies were, shall we say, enthusiastically exploring the boundaries of promotional regulations. It was no coincidence that almost every cannabis campaign running during the months leading up to legalization ceased on October 16th. The biggest obstacle for our brand was to run a fully compliant campaign. It's part of our company ethos to always play within the rules. We don't do grey market. Not even dark white.  ;^)

The discovery of recruiting as exempt from advertising prohibition led to our breakthrough. You'll note the campaign never strayed from the message of hiring. Any brand exposure as a result was a happy accident.

AME: What other challenges did you face throughout the campaign and how did you solve them?

Martin Strazovec: As a small group of entrepreneurs on a limited budget (only 5 people at the time), we understood that we'd have to make a bold move to get noticed. Prior to legalization, some Licensed Producers had hundreds of millions in the bank. We had a budget of $205,000 (and spent only $135,000 of it).  We were not about to outspend anyone, and everyone was gearing up to make some noise just before legalization. We put our chips down on the power of our idea, and on the likelihood of media publicity amplifying the campaign.

Additionally, our reliance on major digital ad platforms meant we had to find a way to guide prospects from our ad to a cannabis-related page without triggering a campaign shutdown. Our media partner helped with this by diligently tracing the path of each ad unit and ensuring that there were no transgressions along the way. By the time a click-through led to our job application page, there was an age gate in place to ensure only those 19+ went on to see the details.

AME: How long was the time lapse from inspiration to final execution of the campaign?

Martin Strazovec: We began talking about a Cannabis Curation Committee in June of 2018 and had the campaign ready to launch that September.

AME: Your target audience spanned multi-generations. What were they and how did you zero in on each segment?

Martin Strazovec: Our targeting was based primarily upon the assumption that cannabis consumers were everywhere in Canada.

They're an interesting bunch in that their attitudinal characteristics tend to supersede basic demographics. For example, if we look at the creative class – people who are involved in creative pursuits and/or value creative expression – we find men and women aged 19 to 99, from all socio-economic and ethnic groups, and so on. What unites them is an attraction to cannabis for its creativity-enhancing effects.

When choosing our final CCC members, we were deliberately seeking individuals who, along with deep experience with the plant, were also relatable based on their "walk of life." In their profiles, you'll see a wellness therapist, an artist, a music director, a publisher, an accredited connoisseur, an award-winning master grower, an entertainer and a consultant. 

AME: Your results were stunning, what results were you most proud of and why?

Martin Strazovec: We anticipated that the headline, "AHLOT paying people $50 an hour to smoke weed" would get out there, but we didn't expect global interest on the scale that it occurred. That was a testament to the opportunities available in a virgin industry – a brand can actually create a series of 'firsts' in this market. (Our Cannabis Collections™ is a category-of-one product.)

Most proud? I would have to say the sheer variety of people who responded to our recruitment campaign. It was a truly enlightening experience to see doctors, lawyers, engineers, university faculty, government employees and a vast cross-section of other humans all acknowledging that cannabis legalization was not only a long time coming but was being met with a mature, normalized attitude by so many.

AME: “Cannabis Curation Committee campaign” earned an AME Gold Award. What did this accomplishment mean to you, the team?

Martin Strazovec: One of the most important values AHLOT brings to the partner brands in our packs is helping to uplift those brands through our marketing efforts. So, you can imagine our collective pride in winning a globally-recognized award for advertising and marketing effectiveness, especially in the Avant Garde/Innovative category!

I'm personally as proud of this award as any I have won. A long career in advertising has afforded me the privilege of working on many successful brands with generous budgets, but this experience has been the culmination of everything I've learned and try to teach: 1) An idea has to be courageous to make a measurable difference. 2) If it is, you are guaranteed to encounter obstacles that will threaten to diminish it – this is the true fight. 3) You don't need big money to make that idea work.