Toronto’s heralded first pot shop customer turned out to be a sham when it was revealed that the first purchase was staged with a publicist who works with the dispensary.
The Hunny Pot, Toronto’s only brick-and-mortar cannabis shop to date, had PR act out a sale and give an interview to CP24 about the store without disclosing her connection to the business.
A thread on Reddit that surfaced Tuesday pointed out that the so-called customer was also on the dispensary’s payroll, including links to the CP24 video documenting the incident and angry commentary from Redditors.
In the CP24 video, reporter Brandon Gonez stands inside the store moments before it opens its doors. Hunny Pot PR Kate Johnny stands just inside the door. She nods to someone off-camera, steps outside and then walks back in as the shop opens for business.
Johnny has her ID scanned, orders her cannabis and completes the purchase, saying she feels “amazing” when the clerk inquires about her experience at the store.
When the transaction is complete, Johnny gives Gonez an interview with a radiant review of the shop, calling it “the most beautiful store I’ve ever seen.”
When Gonez asks Johnny if she has “always been a cannabis user” as well as what “inspired” her to visit the store that day, Johnny responds that “honestly what inspired me was the education from the budtenders. I haven’t smoked too much cannabis in the past since it has been legalized in October. It was really great to have the experience from The Hunny Pot because they provide you with knowledge whether you’re a first-time user or you’ve used it before,” and describes herself as “very happy” with the price.
The faux first buyer, Blue Door Communications PR Kate Johnny, admitted later that the was a representative for Hunny Pot after it was reported by multiple media outlets. As reported by Vice and the Toronto Star, it is reported that “when approached by the Star about why she was captured on live TV acting like the first buyer, Johnny admitted it was to ensure there were no issues.”
Social justice lawyer Caryma Sa’d, who had camped out in shifts with friends since Sunday morning so she could be at the front of the line, was disenchanted by the move.
“It’s really just disappointing because I planned it so that no matter what happens, someone would be there holding the spot, and I would be able to participate in this moment,” she told the GrowthOp. “I did this because I thought it would be like a cool historic moment.”
“When I saw it I was cringing. I knew what happened. I can imagine someone who didn’t know what happened would still be like, why is this such an awkward exchange? And not to knock the PR company, but it’s just a weird move,” she says, wondering aloud why they didn’t at least hire an actor instead of using a publicist.
“I just think it was sort of a missed opportunity for something that could have been pretty cool,” says Sa’d, “but no hard feelings. And, I guess, having heard sort of the questions that they asked and the answers that she provided, and I don’t know that I would have fit their narrative in the way that they would have hoped for. I think it’s amazing that he actually pulled it together in 79 days and opened so quickly. I do have some feelings about how legalization unfolded and I don’t think I would have hesitated to draw attention to the fact that there are no shortage of experienced candidates, entrepreneurs, who are being shut out of the market that they helped preserve and create.”
Not only was the stunt potentially deceptive, it may run afoul of Ad Standards–particularly Disguised Advertising Techniques guidelines, which dictate that “no advertisement shall be presented in a format or style that conceals the fact that it is an advertisement.”
Standards also dictate that a “testimonial, endorsement, review or other representation” like the one from Johnny “must disclose any ‘material connection’ between the endorser” and endorsee, and “if such a material connection exists, that fact and the nature of the material connection must be clearly and prominently disclosed in close proximity to the representation about the product or service.”
The connection does not seem to have been made clear to media covering the event, although Hunny Pot says otherwise.
“It was a ceremonial transaction with Kate, who was instrumental in helping us launch Hunny Pot from the very beginning,” a Hunny Pot rep wrote in a statement to the GrowthOp. “Every outlet inside the store knew she was part of our communications team as we announced it to all of them and was our key media liaison for all outlets that day.”
But CP24 says it was not aware that Johnny was not a regular customer.
“During their live coverage of the store’s opening, CP24 interviewed a woman believed to be a legitimate customer,” the news outlet toldVice. “Soon after that initial interview, CP24 was informed that the store had pre-selected the customer to be onsite for media interviews, which the station clarified immediately by revising their script. At the time, CP24 was not aware that she was a publicist for the store.”
CityNews also continues to refer to Johnny as the “first” customer to make a purchase.
When asked what they might say to customers who waited for long periods of time to be first in line, a Hunny Pot rep told GrowthOp via email that “the very first customer in line was welcomed in at 9:05 am. No one waited outside when doors opened.”
The dispensary declined to respond to questions about how their actions may have violated Ad Standards.
The Hunny Pot has been the subject of several controversies in its three days of operation. Vice reporter Manisha Krishnan tweeted noting a staff member’s store-issued shirt that read, “I run on weed and gangsta rap,” while others decried the shop’s lack of accessibility for those who use mobility devices such as wheelchairs.
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