Branding the Marijuana Industry
Last week during the election, Californians passed Proposition 64, thereby legalizing the use of recreational marijuana. A small sliver of a silver lining, you could say. There’s plenty of high points to get excited about on the social and criminal justice side of the equation, to be sure, but we’re here to talk about the emergence of a brand new world of marijuana branding. Last week we considered the future of branding outer space, and today, we turn to another new frontier entirely. May it be far, far greater than the sum of all green pot leaves we’ve seen thus far combined.
Before the November 8 election, about 50 percent of states have legalized medical marijuana. With California’s passage of Prop 64, the future looks bright for more states to follow suit and do the same. According to a recent Gallup poll, 60% of American adults believe that marijuana should be legal. All signs point to a world where, in the not so distant future, a typical Friday evening might involve popping into your local purveyor to select a joint for you enjoyment, much like you would a bottle of wine.
The Prevailing Aesthetic
According to James I. Bowie, a sociologist studying patterns and trends in logo design using quantitative analysis, writing for Slate, “analysis of United States Patent and Trademark Office records shows that 44 percent of logos registered as trademarks for marijuana-related businesses feature the familiar cannabis leaf.” The crunchy aesthetic, coupled with the only “brick and mortar” shops associated with the industry, head shops, makes for one highly unsophisticated landscape. Think: Psychedelia and swirling neon hues, Rastafarian motifs and the like. Slate also reports that last year, more than 1 in every 500 new U.S. logos registered, featured a cannabis leaf. Not exactly aspirational in innovation or aesthetic standards.
As negative connotations of smoking pot are increasingly shed, the challenge becomes standing out from the crowd and attracting new, curious consumers. The recreational marijuana industry is a business like any other. They hope to encourage brand loyalty, tempt curious nonusers into the fold, and to ultimately become the most used brand of marijuana out there. But, much like the outer space industry, everything is looking the same. There’s very few clues being given to the average consumer to help understand differences amongst brands and individual identities and nuances.
For Slate, Bowie goes on to draw an important distinction: For a business where the service being offered is more important than the brand’s vibe or associated lifestyle (he uses dentistry as an example), it’s no big deal if the average consumer can’t tell one brand from another. But for the marijuana industry, there’s so much more room to think about what type of feelings and experiences a brand is offering when it comes to their product. It’s from this place of inspiration that we hope the industry begins to draw.
The future is now
The short of it: A successful, valuable product offers a solution to a specific problem. While alcohol has long been billed as the secret to making you the life of any party, pot is an entirely different animal. The messaging will likely skew in an aspirational direction that speaks to artists and creatives, those seeking a state of mental bliss or escape, even heightened creativity and thoughtfulness.
As the “lifestyle choice” of being a smoker becomes more popular, the lifestyle elements associated with pot brands will become increasingly important. Tetra, one of the first high-end retail experiences in the space, offers “designer smoking objects” that speak to Tetra’s belief in “smoking as an opportunity to sit down, relax, and be present — an antidote to the harried, tech-obsessed pace of modern life.” You can find Tom Dixon oil diffusers, a $1,250 lighter-and-ashtray-meets-table-sculpture, and Apparatus-designed incense burners, alongside minimalist pipes fashioned from pristine porcelain by Miwak Junior and geometric rolling papers.
Sweetflag, an online retailer using the tagline “products for a lifted lifestyle,” includes “Before” “During” and “After” categories to browse on their site. The ‘Before’ section features chic incense burners and flower vases—the type of earthy, handsome sundries that will transform your home into a vibey sanctuary. ‘After’ includes an elevated take on post-toke toys like copper head massagers, technicolor-tinted sunglasses, and a gorgeous color gradient puzzle by Areaware.
Going a different route is Good Chemistry, a chain of dispensaries with locations in Colorado, Illinois, and Nevada. Taking design cues from Apple, The Clinic created a flagship in Denver that strikes a balance between art and science. According to The Clinic’s CEO, the intention was to create a retail experience that wasn’t pot-centric, and that could instead stand out in any industry.
Clearly, as the marijuana industry continues its journey into the mainstream, we’ll continue to see more and more businesses and brands of varied styles with just as many intended audiences. We’ll see branded cafes, shops, hotels (The Nativ Hotel in downtown Denver made headlines as the city’s first 420-friendly hotel), publications that tout new releases and special strains, as well as the emergence of design studios devoted to the marijuana market. We hope to see a broadening of the aesthetic in all directions—artful, minimal, feminine, soft, vibrant, quirky, bold, you name it. As for the green pot leaf? Hey, we get it. We’re just thinking that maybe it’s time to put origin stories and iconic symbolism aside and look to the future.