We've been working with Courier magazine to create a consumer brand for marijuana, as part of their latest issue which investigates what might happen if cannabis was legalised and regulated like any other consumer good. More on how we approached one of our most unusual projects yet below - and more in-depth coverage in Courier itself.
Cannabis is an unusual thing to brand. It’s both illegal and everywhere, taboo but almost universally accepted, artisanal and base at the same time. At the heart of the challenge was a similar tension — creating a very new category brand for a very old product.
Our starting point was trust. Brands started becoming powerful at the turn of the 20C when their purpose was to assure consumers of quality and help them avoid knockoffs of dubious provenance. Things have moved on a bit since then, but given weed’s checkered history when it comes to legality and public perceptions, the new brand would first have to do the same.
Cannabis isn’t soap though, and whilst we wanted to leave behind some of the more hackneyed clichés of weed (Mr. Marley, the leaf and so on) we also wanted to celebrate it for what it is — a happily psychoactive product that has encouraged some great (and not so great) music, art and conversation over the centuries. It needed to have a certain joy and youthfulness to it. But it’s also an artisanal category — provenance is fundamental, with strains having been perfected over decades; the craft involved in growing it, whilst somewhat hidden, compares with that employed in some of the oldest French vineyards.
So another fine line to tread — celebrating cannabis for what it is, whilst elevating it to sit alongside artisanal wines, chocolate and coffee.
We created a very simple brand architecture to do just that. The mother brand evokes a sense of polished psychedelia, with surreal photography and modern typography working together in a clean and clear system. The provenance of each strain is described on pack very matter of factly, describing where it comes from, its effects, and growing methods used. The name itself - # - is, of course, a play on words and symbols; it brings a bit of levity and wit to a quite ‘grown-up’ motherbrand. And it will, we hope, prove memorable — it certainly speaks to a very contemporary context.
The product visual language needed to be different — it would after all, carry the cannabis itself. To do justice to the product, it had to have a sense of energy and vibrancy to it. And it needed to help people navigate the number of different strains available. So each strain has a unique yet coherent personality, with colours and patterns bringing individual strains to life yet showing their common brand heritage. The cannabis chocolates and oils adopt the same visual cues.
Packaging would be a key brand touchpoint and the right place to convey a sense of sophistication and craft. Large capsules of thick glass make it easy to see the bud and help consumers form an instant connection with the product. Large oversized lids are pleasing to the eye and to the touch, helping form a tactile relationship with the brand when handling the jar.
These core elements are applied to every other brand touchpoint with a balance between motherbrand and product brand visual cues used depending on what the brand needs to convery. The stores are clean, uncluttered and sophisticated with a sense of clinical connoisseurship to it, a la Aesop. Billboard posters are colourful and celebrate the flavours and their provenance. The end result is a brand that’s sophisticated and fun, young and artisanal — as appealing to the consumer as it is to the connoisseur.
Now we just need to wait for those pesky laws to be changed!