Earlier this week, the LCBO unveiled the new logo for the “Ontario Cannabis Store.” The reveal caused controversy online as the public criticized the simplicity of the logo, which cost taxpayers a staggering $650,000. The logo is not without its defenders, citing the goal of encouraging customers to associate the retailer with safety and trust. This reasoning is of high import to the topic of cannabis branding: what exactly is the goal you have in mind, and are people thinking about the goals of cannabis companies correctly? We’re going to explore the world of marijuana branding to inspire businesses and brands throughout Canada to begin asking the right questions, namely: how can we refine and diversify the general public’s opinion of marijuana?
The Bird’s Eye of Getting High
Marijuana branding will evolve rapidly as legalization normalizes, and there’s lots of work remaining to be done. For starters, the industry has a problem with the leaf. The 7 pointed green leaf is present in at least 44% of all trademarked logos in America, and the culture itself can’t seem to shake having it everywhere. It’s time for entrepreneurs to think about marijuana branding more sophisticated. The following is a broad overview of what we see presently:
Medicinal marijuana is branded and advertised like any other health product, and the goal is legitimacy above all else. Under the Access to Cannabis for Medical Purposes Act (ACMPR) here in Canada, any medicinal marijuana product must adhere to strict government regulations and many companies will err on the side of caution.
In this area, you will see traditional medical marketing trends still apply, especially since the goal is to legitimize the product not only to the government but also new users who see it with cultural baggage.
This is not to say there’s not flexibility in the look and branding in this area, but it is often information first, lifestyle second.
Marijuana has a long history of aligning with counterculture. When many people think of marijuana, they think of stoner culture, which can best be described as an umbrella under which falls the wild imagery of psychedelic, reggae, hip-hop and fringe imagery.
It’s made to look trippy, it’s made to look weird, and it’s meant to be tethered to anything outcast. This sort of imagery continues to dominate head shops and dispensaries, from pipe design down to names of strands like Purple Vader OG and Ice Kanye Kush.
Craft Vs. Luxury
With marijuana legalization comes the question of home growers and independent retailers selling their products on a smaller scale, even though Canada finds itself in a state of flux leaving many independent growers struggling to stay profitable in a market dominated by government partnerships and conglomeration. A number of lobbying groups have formed around the Craft Cannabis concept, and its adherents have successfully taken control of the term in Western Canada. One could imagine a whole subculture of hipsters selling weed from mason jars with these types of logos. The charismatic underdogs appealing to demographics that eschew the big players.
Let’s not forget the opposite end of the spectrum: the high-end, sophisticated, custom niche. Think high-end dispensaries like Diego Pellicer and gold rolling papers. Brands like Tokyo Smoke are already servicing the more affluent tastes and styles in Canada. This hemisphere experiences the same issue, however: standing out in an arena quickly overflowing with big names and big budgets. The future of the independent hustle and all the branding charisma that comes with it appears foggy.
With marijuana emerging as a legitimate sector, it opens the doors to legitimized branding and the first thing that pops into peoples’ minds is how they can advertise it like something they are already familiar with; energy drinks, wine, natural health, even lifestyle items like cars or video games. It’s broad and open territory and many, who want to distance the popular conception of marijuana will attempt to distance it from the counterculture elements, will emulate other markets that people are familiar with.
An interesting branding exercise that even non-business owners can try: if you had to market marijuana to an athlete how would you do it? How would you advertise it to a sports enthusiast?Marketers can refine and diversify the general public's opinion of marijuana. Click To Tweet
The Overlooked Opportunity of Cannabis Branding
Many believe one day, there will be cannabis adverts running during the Super Bowl. There will be marijuana growers sponsoring sports teams, and dispensaries will be unionized. When we talk about branding, it goes beyond a logo or advertisement. We are talking about the DNA and personality of the business itself.
I see these conversations going one of two ways, both of which have been outlined in this article: either the status quo will open itself and more people will come in, or the industry will adopt tactics employed by familiar industries and diversify. They might say “we will be just like alcohol.”
This is putting the cart before the horse. Before we ask ourselves what we can look like, we must ask ourselves what we represent. Marijuana does not need to be sold like vodka because vodka endeavors to fulfill a different purpose.
While the opportunity is present for brands to chart an exciting course for an entirely new marketplace, the time is still ripe for having a say in what will be permitted. With Health Canada proposing strict regulations on marijuana packaging, the little dogs can have as much power as the big dogs if they get involved and speak up.