Cannabis — and we’re talking about the legal kind here — is going increasingly mainstream. Cannabrands are everywhere in certain corners of the world. It’s a booming industry, and yet, it’s an industry that suffers from a bad case of visual sameness.
With recreational use of cannabis legal in eight states, and medical use legal in more than a dozen more, dispensaries are popping up all over the country. Growers are making names for themselves industry. Celebrities from Snoop to Woody to Whoopi are getting in on the action.
But there’s also a lot of really awful cannabis branding. Corny weed puns are everywhere. Dated visual references to the ‘60s and ‘70s drip off packaging. Green crosses beckon from strip malls.
I wonder: Why are there so few great cannabis brands? I suppose it’s early days for legal cannabis branding, but I’d like to see some more great cannabis branding, at the very least, some good cannabis brand logos for starters.
At Least Give Us a Good Logo
To me, a great brand logo is low-hanging fruit.
And yes, I know the phrase “low-hanging fruit” is a cliché. But I’m going with it because cannabis brands are so, so overrun with terrible clichés.
Green Crosses on Dispensaries
The green cross logo started out in the 1980s not as a cannabis-related visual trope, but as a symbol in France for Conseil National de l’Ordre des Pharmaciens. Even today, pharmacies across that country use green crosses as identifiers in the way we might expect to see a striped pole to indicate a barbershop.
Today’s widespread usage of the pharmaceutical-associated green cross for cannabis brands is a carryover from the days when the only dispensaries were medical cannabis dispensaries. The medical marijuana universe adopted the green cross early on, and in a way, it made sense to use a universal identifier.
It was an industry in which brand choice wasn’t a major factor—if you could go to a dispensary, there likely weren’t many to choose from. The industry was so tightly regulated, and so few joined the market.
It’s Not Medical Anymore
But recreational cannabis is a different beast.
First off: It’s not just medicine anymore. Not everyone who uses recreational, legal cannabis is ill and in search of treatment. Why use symbolism that equates your product with medicine?
Secondly, if we assume that the momentum will continue to build toward increasing decriminalization and legalization of recreational cannabis, those who will succeed in this industry long-term will need to build distinctiveness into their brands.
What’s with All the Pot Leaves?
“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,” James L. Bowie, a sociologist at Northern Arizona University who analyzes patterns and trends in logo design wrote in Slate’s Design Blog the Eye in 2016.
Bowie goes on to talk about how this same-same approach to cannabis branding ends up being “visually indistinct.” Think about it: Even the most beautiful of marijuana-leaf-shaped logos are still just beautiful marijuana-leaf-shaped logos.
The bigger problem with all of this repetition of clichés? It’s not just about aesthetics, or an urge to be different. When you employ such a hyper-utilized cliché for your brand, all it does is reiterate the category, not the brand.
Is that all you want to indicate with your cannabis brand? That you sell cannabis? Why not think bigger?
And really, why does the product need to be in the logo?
What if Apple’s logo looked like a computer? After all, that’s what they started out selling.
So, how can you make your brand stand out visually? A great logo is a start.
Earlier, I said cannabis brand logos are low-hanging fruit, but I wasn’t trying to suggest that creating an excellent logo is easy.
As my colleague Sherry Shaffer pointed out in a recent post, there’s quite a bit of work you need to do before you design your logo.
Part of how you figure out who you can best serve is by asking yourself who you are as a brand, what you care about, and what defines you.
You might do well to go through the whole branding rigmarole, which includes discovering your archetype, your positioning, and perhaps even bringing the whole thing to life with a mantra.
What Makes a Logo Great?
The first three words that come to mind when I’m thinking about great logos are timeless, simple and versatile.
It’s a start but consider, too, that your logo should be meaningful. In the sense that the logo communicates something about the brand and what it does, whether that’s a good or service.
Seek imagery that differentiates the brand within the category. Avoid clichés. What can you say about your brand that evokes something that means a little bit more than green cross, pot leaf and more green?
Some Who Are Doing It Right
I’ve been hard on the cannabis industry as a whole, and fairly, I think. But there are some brands who have taken a different approach to all of the sameness.
Lola Lola comes to mind. Their brand is all about delivering “experiences that inspire expansion of the mind, community and overall wellbeing of humankind.” To that end, their logo is modern, sleek, and contains imagery that evokes their ethic.
Mirth Provisions is another cannabis brand that’s created a non-cliché logo. It’s playfully on-brand, both classic and modern at the same time, and used in packaging with interesting typography, creates an impression.
Whatever you do, don’t just throw a green leaf on it. Please.