Can I Gift-wrap That Weed for You?

The legalization of recreational marijuana in Israel may still be far off, but the branding revolution is well underway

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Cannabis package rebranding
Cannabis. Can a design campaign normalize its use?Credit: Sivan and Alon Rushing/ROSHIANU & MOLOKO
Oded Ben Yehuda
Oded Ben Yehuda
Oded Ben Yehuda
Oded Ben Yehuda

Among all the trendy cafes and boutiques in and around Tel Aviv’s Basel Street, you’ll also find Tikun Olam, the first stand-alone marijuana dispensary in Israel. With a décor that features a lot of wood and well-tended greenery, it exudes an inviting urban appeal and blends in perfectly with its bourgeois surroundings. More than anything, it’s the English logo in a sans serif typeface reminiscent of the kind associated with international fashion houses that sends a clear message: This is not about stoners scoring some weed in a shady fashion or a pharmaceutical company providing medical cannabis to the sick; this is an overt statement of intentions that shouts lifestyle.

Together cannabis. Credit: Sivan and Alon Rushing/ROSHIANU & MOLOKO

Tikun Olam was founded in 2006 and to a certain extent is responsible for one of the biggest consumer revolutions in Israel. In 2016, the Knesset passed the first reform permitting the use of medical marijuana. Today, according to the Health Ministry website, there are more than 200 authorized pharmacies providing 25 different brands of medical cannabis, including 15 Israeli brands. The path to legalization in Israel is still just beginning, despite the coalition agreement in the current government, which explicitly calls for “a law decriminalizing cannabis consumption and full regulation of the cannabis market.” But the branding revolution is well underway already.

Spiky leaf images – out

Two years ago, another Israeli brand, Together, designed by the Studio Koniak branding agency, showed how such a hackneyed subject could be treated in a refreshing way without compromising on a high-end boutique look. The blends were divided into three series with white packaging (aside from one more prestigious variety that was packaged in black) with a delicate dash of pastel and with a unique and dominant logotype placed vertically on the front of the package. Visual language that would be right at home with any of the international cosmetics brands. The new image of IMC, one of the largest players in Israel in the field, is currently being launched. Here, too, don’t expect the typical branding for a smoking product. The Ernesto Bijovsky & Matan Raz branding agency has come up with something that fits with the most contemporary styles for premium labels and lifestyle products.

IMC’s new agenda is first of all about terminology. Reserve, Craft and Signature, terms borrowed from the world of wine and cigars, have been adopted as names for the “collections” – another borrowed term, this time from fashion. Design-wise, an intelligent choice was made not to put a photo or illustration of a spiky marijuana leaf on the package, as would be the obvious move, but rather colorful graphical silhouettes of marijuana buds. The large splotches of color, which at first glance call to mind countries on a map or mountainous sight lines, have been done in a precise palette and with sophisticated color combinations.

Together cannabis. A choice was made not to use an image of a spiky marijuana leaf.Credit: Sivan and Alon Rushing/ROSHIANU & MOLOKO

Slow movement

To understand the legitimacy lent by these unexpected graphical languages, one has to know about the international “slow movement,” which is at a peak. The movement, which arose more than two decades ago, touts the concept of a slow, healthy and ethical lifestyle and has radically affected the world of consumerism and marketing. One of the new trends in the culinary field was about design, with a focus on the smallest details and very careful production alongside simplicity and minimalism. Brands of coffee, chocolate, wine – things that until recently were often thought of as elitist and niche products, and even things like cold cuts – dispensed with the usual design cliches in favor of a more contemporary graphical language. And in recent years, medical marijuana joined the list of products with such modern packaging.

But aside from these few examples, Israel, which is known for its extensive knowledge in developing and growing medical marijuana, generally lags behind when it comes to branding. Abroad, this category is on fire. For a long time now, medical marijuana isn’t something to be whispered about or embarrassed by. It’s not a fad, it’s a whole new cultural world. Cannabis smoking and cannabis oil brands like Treaty, Cerena Narvona, Freeco, Hanayu Kiskanu, Kurvana and Goodleaf span a very broad spectrum of styles and market positioning. Although their main purpose is to ease people’s pain and suffering, their hip images suggest a full, high-quality holistic experience that respects its consumers. Most of the brands also offer a range of complementary accessories including fashion items and household products. And they offer elaborate pop-up stores and use serious and attractive spokesmodels.

Is such an aggressive design campaign necessary in order to normalize something that for decades was perceived as forbidden? Apparently, the answer is yes. Design often has a more powerful effect than any written message.

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