One in five American adults can now legally eat, drink, smoke or vape cannabis however they please. For the fledgling companies fighting for customer attention, the game of differentiating their products through branding is on. And nothing conveys these emerging marijuana brands and stories so clearly as the pretty packaging in which they’re increasingly wrapped.
Rolling a crinkly, crooked joint by hand, the preferred packaging of an earlier generation of pot smokers, seems like a quaint ritual from a galaxy long ago compared with these new products. Exhibit A is Toast’s marijuana cigarette packs, which are black with embossed art-deco designs. “Toast” is written in gold italics. The cigarettes, called “Slices,” come 10 to a pack.
The filter tip is purple with a gold butterfly and gold text where the purple ends. The branding was inspired by 1920s cigarette cases, according to Gabrielle Rein, Toast’s chief creative officer.
“The packaging had to be positioned as luxury,” Rein said. “It had to look very chic and upscale, it had to be unisex.”
Packaging is one way companies are making money from the Green Rush without the legal risk of actually touching the plant. The marijuana industry was worth $6.7 billion (U.S.) in 2016 and is expected to reach $50 billion by 2025, according to Cowen and Co.
Ed Kilduff, the branding guru who created the Rabbit wine opener and an Oprah-endorsed herb saver among many other products, is now getting into cannabis with his company Pollen Gear. Kilduff saw an opportunity when he noticed how cannabis is typically packaged: cylindrical tubes with pop-tops that largely lacked character.
Girl Scout Cookies
Cannabis retail stores were selling different qualities of weed — bottom shelf, middle range and premium — all in the same boring packaging. So Kilduff designed a stylish childproof glass cylindrical container to differentiate premium weed products.
“There’s no way right now for them to distinguish their top-shelf flower that costs them more to make,” he said, referring to pot retailers. “Now they finally have a package for it.”
The New York-based company has customized packages for companies including Colorado-based Seed and Smith. It also joined forces with Marvel comic illustrator Adam Pollina to create labels for famous marijuana strains. The label for Gorilla Glue depicts a jaded-looking gorilla wearing a top hat smoking a joint with a burger, fries and a pet cat. The container for Girl Scout Cookies, another popular strain, shows vest-wearing girls tagging a brick wall with a marijuana leaf.
Pollen Gear makes childproof bags, called exit bags, for weed packages that don’t meet state safety standards. These bags are increasingly branded. It also makes rectangular containers with tops that pop off only if you squeeze on two specific points. The field is wide open for innovative packaging, Kilduff said.
“If you Google weed packaging, the whole front page of Google is just all companies importing the same exact product from China and they’re just competing on pennies,” he said. “As a product designer, that’s the coolest opportunity. It’s like a green field.”