Ontario Cannabis Store Branding Takes the Minimalist Approach

byAlanaArmstrong3 minutes

The Ontario Cannabis Store (OCS), a division of the Liquor Control Board of Ontario (LBCO), unveiled its logo recently—and the reviews were mixed. Many people called the logo boring or mused that it must have been created in Microsoft Word. Others argued that the logo isn’t important when you’re selling a product that sells itself, like marijuana does. Though much of the vitriol was over the look of the logo, criticism was also levied at the fact that the government paid global advertising giant Leo Burnett $650,000 to create it.

How the Money for OCS Branding Was Spent

The LCBO wants everyone to know that the price includes far more than just a logo, which is what an LCBO representative tried to explain in an email to ITBusiness.ca: "To build a broad, province-wide brand that will be recognized as a sole retailer of legal recreational cannabis required thoughtful and strategic brand development strategies and consultation from a variety of stakeholders."

Besides the logo, the budget also paid for:

  • Overall brand strategy
  • Cannabis branding guidelines
  • A brand name
  • Market research
  • Brand assets
  • Guidelines for future use

The Team Behind the Cannabis Store Logo

Lisa Greenberg is creative director at Leo Burnett and was a natural choice to head up the project. One of her earliest projects with the LCBO dates back to before she was with Leo Burnett, when she helped the LCBO create a website called Francois the Talking Mime to promote French wines.

To understand the possible thinking behind the OCS logo, you have to acknowledge the existence of strict cannabis packaging regulations proposed by Health Canada. Greenberg's team was “guided by the government priorities of restricting access to youth, protecting public health and addressing the illegal market.”

A No-Frills Look for the Ontario Cannabis Store

Ontario Cannabis Store logo

The logo is dead simple, consisting of the letters O, C and S in a black circle. It doesn’t include any depiction of the marijuana leaf or any other visual cue that the LBCO is selling cannabis.

The name certainly conveys "a safe, simple and approachable environment for consumers, and agency employees, in a clear and easily understood manner." The look says that the company doesn’t want to excite the public. In fact, it seems downright indifferent.

3 Expert Thoughts on the Ontario Cannabis Store Logo

Reactions to the logo and name have been powerful, but not quite as divisive as the media has made it seem.

  • Jeff Harris of the Ontario Libertarian Party called it a waste, considering the 250 in-house marketing employees at the Ontario government’s disposal.
  • Rebecca Brown of the newly launched cannabis ad agency Crowns says, "I think the logo is a perfect manifestation of the weirdness of this moment in time wherein the government and the LCBO are selling a product that they don't want to encourage people to consume. That is an inherently bizarre and contradictory position to be in. I'm assuming their brief to Leo Burnett was somewhere in the ballpark of ‘communicate our ambivalence.’"
  • It's trendier than you think, Dan Seljak, the senior marketing specialist at Canadian design firm Quadrangle points out. On Twitter, he compared the OCS logo with other cannabis brands and found that many had gone for the same type of minimalist, text-heavy logo.

Not Your Typical Cannabis Industry Branding

The cannabis industry isn't so used to this kind of approach. Most marijuana products inspire adjectives like fun and slick.

But cities like Portland, OR in the U.S. have decadent cannabis stores fashioned after upscale boutiques—so why can’t Canada do the same? Ontarians are afraid that their version will end up looking like The Beer Store of yesteryear—cold and with no product available to view, where you place your order and wait for the clerk to fetch it from the mysterious back room.

One of the theories being floated is that the minimalist logo is meant to leave room for future growth. Look at the LCBO stores and branding from the 1960s and how far it's come. There could be something to this theory.

If this is the case, we may not even have to wait half a decade for a cannabis store branding that lives up to its price tag.

Photo credit: Cannabis Reports