This spring, as part of its ongoing efforts to destigmatize legal marijuana, Canadian cannabis company Flowr delivered a not-so-hidden message with help from creative agency Zerotrillion and Asymetric director Alon Isocianu.
The team crafted "Nothing to Hide," a short film driven by evocative, almost hypnotic imagery that generations of folks who kept their weed consumption on the down low would immediately recognize.
Well-served by the sultry strains of Millie Jackson's 1974 soul track "I'm Tired of Hiding," the simple yet powerful :45 won the lone Grand Clio at the 2021 Clio Cannabis Awards this week.
"I'm tired of having to sneak around
Everywhere we go
I wanna feel free, to be with you
I don't care who knows."
Jackson's smoldering delivery (about a clandestine love affair) and the tune's urgent groove mesh seamlessly with shots of various nooks and crannies—sock drawers, pillows, hollowed-out books—where people might hide weed.
"We wanted the visual style to be nostalgic, cinematic and ever-so-slightly surreal," Adam Fierman, global creative director at Amsterdam and Toronto-based Zerotrillion, tells Muse. "We also fundamentally believe that cannabis users are not a monolithic group. So we laboriously crafted each set to speak to different people and experiences."
Working from the insight that millions of Canadians hid their weed before legalization in October 2018, Zerotrillion asked Flowr customers at a Toronto dispensary to reveal their fave hiding places, and worked such feedback into the script.
"We pushed for the greatest quality possible, because when you believe in your team's concept, you fight for it," says Nicole Wolff, former Flowr brand director. "As marketers in a new field, we must advance the business and establish credibility."
There's no overt sales pitch—though Flowr's spiffy blue jar looks fab at the end. Rather, the work strives for a deep consumer connection, portraying the company as a group of kindred sprits yearning to stop hiding and bring their passion for pot into the light.
In a conversation below, Fierman explains that despite legalization, cannabis still struggles to gain widespread acceptance. Even now, many customers keep their stash out of sight, imbuing the effort with extra urgency.
Muse: What sparked the idea?
Adam Fierman: Are you a cop? What are you suggesting? Come on, Clio, my mom might read this. OK, that's joke, but it's also the point. Cannabis has been completely, federally, hand-on-the-Bible legal in Canada for a few years now. But while folks were very public about their cannabis use among peers, many were still stuffing it into sock drawers when Mom was coming to visit. So what gives? It turns out that a bunch of older white guys in parliament (no shade, that's stats. Average age: 52. Average ethnicity: freshly fallen snow) can change laws, but they can't change culture overnight. Folks were still hiding. Not from Johnny Law, but hiding nonetheless.
That sparked the idea. Everyone has a story of stuff spots, secret hideaways and hidden compartments where they stashed their stash once upon a time. So we wanted to create a nostalgic tour of those tuckaways and encourage everyone to leave the hiding in the past.
"Leave the hiding in the past"—how does the film advance that proposition?
[It sets the stage] for people to have an awkward but valuable conversation with their mom. Our audience consists of healthy cannabis users of legal age—the majority of whom still discuss cannabis in a whisper. In seeing the film, I hope they appreciate that Flowr is trying to tear down the stigmas. I hope they realize there's no sales message. There's no message saying Flowr has great products. We're just trying to pull our audiences into a real discussion.
Can you walk me through the imagery?
You noticed that there are no people in the film, right? Seem like a stylistic choice? Wrong. Even though we want to make fun, creative, impactful work, we always take government regulations very seriously. In Canada, people are a no-no in cannabis advertising. We know the rules, and it's our job to create work that doesn't feel restrained by them.
Can you talk a bit about filming?
They were all set-dressed scenes in a single home. The final shot in the apartment is a separate location. We wanted to make each set feel as real, lived-in and authentic as possible. Bless the production partners. I like to think they had a lot of fun with this job, and you see it in the final film. Plus, and this is a secret—I wasn't even there. After working on this film for nearly a year to get it sold and prepped, I was taking a two-month mental health sabbatical. My business partner, Alex Paquin, who's the CEO of Zerotrillion, stepped up to pull the job through. I came back to work, saw how great the film turned out, and realized that I should probably be absent from more productions.
Why use that particular song?
The script came first, but not by much. We sold the concept, and I became obsessed with finding the right music. Some server at Spotify was probably smoking. I had about 28 "maybes" when I stumbled onto Millie's track "I'm Tired of Hiding." And that changed everything. We definitely didn't have the money for the track, there was some legal question about whether we could use the track in cannabis advertising—and I knew with 100 percent certainty that I wasn't going to let the first two points stop me. After months of negotiations, legal opinions and full-on begging the client to find the cash, we secured the track.
Where did the film appear? How do you gauge its impact?
The biggest media placement was online, mostly on Flowr's social channels. But that's not the placement I'm most excited about. Our film found itself in the holy grail of media placements. One that no amount of money can buy. It has to be earned with clout. We saw budtenders in dispensaries showing our film to customers on their own phones. Budtenders liked it so much, they were acting as unpaid breathing billboards for Flowr.
And guess what? Cannabis may be a highly regulated space, and brands may be limited in what they can say. But budtenders can say whatever they want. So getting into their hands, into their conversations with customers, and into the culture of cannabis users in Canada, is like the punch line to a '90s Mastercard ad: Priceless.
Director: Alon Isocianu
Production Co: Asymetric
EP: Nick Burry & Evan Landry
Producer: Sara Alfaro
PM: Pierre Campbell
DP: Mat Barkley
Art: Hope Little
AD: Conor M. O'Brien
AC: Nick Petrie
VTR: Trevor Lawley
Key Grip: Rohan Painter
BP: Adrian Antonecchia
Gaffer: Rory Sommerville-Bathmaker
BP Electric: Jordan Hague
Key Props: Kerry Noonan
PAs: Brett Garltey, Mark Harris, Molly West
COVID Team: Matt Horvat, Charles Bayani
Editorial: Outsider Editorial
Editor: Chris Murphy
Producer: Kayan Choi
Assistant Editor: Bryan Reuben
Colourist: Jason Zukowski
Producer: Valerie Moss
Online & Finishing: Studio Feather
Online Artist: Luke Bellissimo
VFX Assists: Ruben Padilha
Audio: OSO Audio
Voice Record, Sound Design & Mix: Harry Knazan
Executive Producer: Hannah Graham
Music: "I'm Tired of Hiding" - Millie Jackson
Chief Executive Officer: Alex Paquin
Executive Strategy Director: Aubrey Podolsky
Business Director: Elysia Ravenscroft
Creatives: Alex Paquin, Adam Fierman, Amistad Artiz, Sabela Ros Comesana
Producer: Elysia Ravenscroft