A new industry is emerging in North America, one that has lay dormant for over 70 years — Cannabis.
With a long and storied history running back thousands of years, cannabis became illegal before the mass consumerism of post-World War II and, as such, missed out on a “Mad Men” advertising treatment.
But, with legalization unfolding across the world, the marketing, advertising and communications industries are coming to grips with how to put their mark on cannabis sativa and shape the public’s view of this, often maligned, plant.
Where does cannabis fit in? How do we expand the market? How do we establish trust from the public who might hear one story from cannabis activists, another from law enforcement and another from the medical professionals?
The underground market traditionally hasn’t mixed with the advertising agency boardrooms of Madison Ave, and the cannabis subculture liked it that way.
Cannabis began to leak into the world of art and design for the first time during the counter-culture movement of the 1960s. With millions tuning in, turning on and dropping out there was a huge wave of “trip” inspired artwork that filled the bedrooms and suburban basements of the West.
The art and design of cannabis has always had a very DIY feel to it, in part due to the illegality of the plant – pot leaf emblazoned baggies, t-shirts and psychedelic posters were all made in small shops across the country with creators free to work to please only themselves and their local clients.
Ordering your “Columbian Gold” belt buckle and copy of The Emperor Wears No Clothes from the back of an indie rock magazine was a time-honoured tradition.
This hippie-inspired cannabis design has largely kept its aesthetic to the present day (at least as long as the Grateful Dead and Phish keep touring), while the culture of cannabis expanded into other areas – most notably the Latino influenced hip hop of Cypress Hill and the myriad of other rap acts that have cannabis front and centre in their music.
These various subcultures will continue to influence and inform the art and design of cannabis as it enters the mainstream, but the future of cannabis branding will rely on solid principles to guide the marketing, advertising, graphic and industrial design of the industry.
In future posts, I will look more closely at the history of cannabis design, from the early representations of cannabis in folk art to the latest design trends of the leading companies in the cannabis revolution.