The conversation around marijuana has changed dramatically over the last decade. Once widely considered a pastime reserved for unmotivated outcasts and burnouts, the current public perception paints a different picture. People from all walks of life now freely admit to indulging in marijuana, despite the stigma that stubbornly exists.
As more states legalize the plant’s recreational use, entrepreneurs, investors and brands have begun to capitalize on this burgeoning industry. “From a branding perspective, the legal cannabis landscape is maturing incredibly fast,” says Denver-based Strategy Director Jacob Lake. “Traditional CPG marketers and designers are migrating to work on this burgeoning category and they’re bringing that elevated skillset to an industry that was previously pretty fly-by-night in terms of design and brand fundamentals.” Does this growing opportunity make sense for luxury brands? Yes, but not for every brand. The stigma associated with marijuana use certainly prevents many established, traditional luxury brands from throwing their hat into the ring. However, for less traditional luxury brands the opportunity to demonstrate their willingness to push the envelope could reap big benefits. An alternative to jumping into a contentious category with an established brand might be to create an offshoot brand. Offshoot brands can allow an established brand to safely capitalize on the growth of the industry by leveraging their branding expertise, while avoiding potential backlash from less progressive consumers. Some new entities have already begun paving the way for more luxury marijuana-focused brands to enter the space, and nearly every aspect of marijuana culture is experiencing some element of high-end branding. Combating stereotypes with design sensibilities borrowed from fashion retail, Silverpeak Apothecary in Aspen, Colorado, is demonstrating that the need for premium marijuana retail spaces is very real. Rich wood lines the walls and cases of the store, and its products are displayed in a way similar to how you would find handbags and accessories shown in a Soho shop. When it comes to edibles, a few brands have taken an upscale approach to their products. Défoncé Choclatier, for instance, comes across as a high-end, luxury chocolate artisan. From its elegant packaging, to the flowery language the brand uses to describe its process and products, one might mistake the brand for being just another premium chocolate producer. Inside their gorgeous exterior, however, Défoncé’s creations pack a marijuana boost. For those who prefer smoking, Aura is a brand that believes that smoking should look as elevated as the smoker feels. Their flagship product is designed first and foremost to deliver a quality smoking experience – an experience that just so happens to be delivered in a sleek, modern and fantastic looking vessel. And the list goes on.
From marijuana-inspired designs gracing the runways of world-famous fashion designers, to vaporizing devices that appear to have been designed by Silicon Valley’s best and brightest, affluent marijuana consumers have more options at their disposal than ever before. “The cannabis industry is leading a soaring growth trajectory over the next 10 years and I think it will find itself in a similar situation as the beer business has recently,” says Lake. “Ultimately, I think the luxury echelon of cannabis has a huge upside, as consumers seek new and exclusive products in this emerging market. We’re already seeing limited edition production runs, packaging and brand collaborations and even specific genetics or strains that are coveted for their rarity, potency or pedigree. As legalization continues, I think the high end opportunities are bountiful.”
The key to success appears to be the utilization of cues that connote premium, but that don’t scream “reefer madness.”
If the marijuana industry is going to continue to grow, it has a responsibility to demonstrate that these premium products help responsible consumers indulge responsibly, without sacrificing design aesthetics.