What creative opportunities will a legal marijuana market present you?
I had an advertising teacher who claimed that big tobacco companies had registered the 1970s names for different marijuana strains, such as Acapulco Gold, Panama Red, Sensimilla, and other cute names for pot, in the inevitable legalization and marketing of packages similar to Marlboro cigarettes. He also claimed the packaging was already produced, sitting in warehouses, waiting for the green light when they could start rolling (no pun intended). While legalization has become a reality, in at least two American states, other countries are close to making marijuana legal on a national scale. Of course, the names of pot strains have changed, but the packaging and design thereof are still a very real thing, as are the websites, commercials, ads and signage that will be needed to sell the soon to be legal product.
Big pot will be big business
While articles talk about the financial possibilities both for pot store owners, growers, and investors, there will be incredible opportunities for designers, illustrators, photographers, and copywriters. If you doubt this, just look at the decades old, still publishing, High Times magazine. Founded in the early 1970s, the “magazine of counter-culture” offered glimpses into a pre-internet world of how to grow, import, smoke and hide pot in fake soda cans. Two of the most popular features were the centerfolds of massive amounts of pot, beautiful, sticky buds, and the Trans High Market Quotations, which was a list of marijuana and hashish costs by weight in different countries. Many a stoner started saving money for a plane ticket to Kabul where black hash was $2 a pound…getting it back home was a different story. Although I rarely admit to it, I worked for High Times magazine, but despite the stigma attached to working for a magazine that most people think stopped publishing decades ago, it was the perfect insight into how the legal pot business will operate — with the exception of an office hidden on an upper floor in a New York City office building, with pot smokers running amok vs. businesses that need to abide by strict government regulations.
While the front desk guards and the landlord of the small, dingy office building knew that High Times was the stinky, smoky occupants of 90% of an entire floor (the other 10% was an office of an accountant who strangely had real problems with addition and subtraction, for some odd reason). There were stories of secret raids by the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to steal the files of subscribers and contributors but a few joints in the morning allayed those fears and led to an early lunch — one of three per day. Otherwise, the offices and staff were left alone. In the early days, photoshoots of pot-filled studio apartments, bales of weed and primo buds were done in photography studios but as complaints of missing weed made growers less likely to lend expensive product to the ravenous, large-lunged staff, all of whom would cram into a studio for photo shoots, growers and importers started taking their own photos, usually with very professional results. Naturally, being a commercial magazine, there were writers, cartoonists, illustrators, designers, ad space salespeople and support staff. The hiring process wasn’t hard to figure out. A candidate had to have a love and knowledge of counter culture and a really good weed connection. It was an envelope of my illustration samples and a big, fat joint that had me hired the very next day. Every month, I would deliver some illustrations for a feature on pot news— and another big, fat joint. When supplies were low in town, I would be called in to help design pages — and bring several big, fat joints for the day or a week, or… I don’t really remember, it may have been a weekday. There was an easy-going way the office was run. Some visitors came by to smoke with their “heroes” and in at least one case, a young man ended up turning blue and crumpling in a corner after a toke of really good weed. While I admit I suggested pushing him off the elevator on the floor that housed a famous fashion magazine, first using the receptionist’s makeup on his entire face, the Editor-In-Chief passed a rule that there would be no more smoking with visitors, and smoking pot in general would have to be done in the stairwell, on the same floor of the fashion magazine. That ban lasted about three hours until everyone suffered short-term memory loss. Getting the magazine produced and published was another chore. After a three-joint morning, an equal amount of pages were designed and sent for production, obviously reeking of pot smoke and pot chafe sprinkles because nothing made a better rolling surface than an art layout board. The magazine, however, was produced every month for decades, and chances are you’ve seen at least one — on a newsstand, of course. The magazine was, in a real sense, an example of the opportunities that a legal marijuana market holds for creatives of all types. The money involved in the pot trade may not trickle down to those who provide creative services to the burgeoning pot market, unless you are very savvy and can limit the number of joints you consume every day.
Making money off legal pot, without ever touching a joint
High Times is a success story if you consider something that dealt with highly (no pun intended) illegal subjects, but the legal, as well as the medical marijuana market has provided a new industry that needs design and related services. Chances are, these services will not be provided by large, multinational advertising agencies or well-known design firms. It will fall upon freelancers who are familiar with the subject matter and can provide design solutions that sell one pot shop/medical supplier over another. If you look at what’s out there now, you will agree that the design needs help to properly show the product in a business-like manner that will speak to the customer base, as well as entice those who are, if you will, less “hippy-like” in their support of marijuana. Looking at these websites, it’s obvious they need better design and navigation, along with photos, logos and copywriting. This is where more talented, non-stoned freelancers come in. It’s doubtful these new businesses will go outside their immediate circle of friends and customers, or not use simple, online website builders on their own, so you’ll need to contact them — and again the next day after they’ve forgotten you emailed them — to sell your superior services. Consider selling these services for marijuana dispensary products:
All of these shops have websites. Some of these websites have blogs, and all have menus with product shots. As different strains of pot are introduced, including the “Frankensteined” mixes of different strains, these websites will need to be updated quite often. In fact, chances are they will forget their sites were updated the day before, so take advantage of the short-term memory loss!
The increase in mobile use makes pot shops the perfect client for apps as purchasing decisions can be “impulse purchases.” Often it’s not because pot smokers start running their lives around the next purchase once they are down to their last seventeen joints, but pitching a mobile app with the latest products is a great marketing tool.
Many shops are packaging their own lines of edible pot products. While the actual loose pot is often placed in plastic, medicine containers, many shops are using plastic bags with shop stickers on them. Naturally, those also need logos and packaging labels. While some would argue that the use of cartoon mascots on these packages would be dangerous for kids who might mistake the pot edibles as simple candy, adding a few pot leaves to the logo or “Capt. Crunk’s” uniform would help identify the product as pot based. Some say Sonny, the Cocoa Puffs cuckoo bird, who goes “Coo-Coo, for Cocoa Puffs” isn’t far off from a stoner character… more crack or bad acid trip, if you ask me!
Those that can provide illustration or cartoons for logos, signage, and packaging will find the pot market a new outlet for their work. In fact, many artists of the 1970s underground comics field will see a renewed interest in their work. Expect the Freak Brothers to appear again, hawking the very smoking stuff they spent so much time and effort trying to procure on the streets of San Francisco. As for cartoons, what pot website or blog wouldn’t want a cartoon or two about recreational pot? Reprints of old underground cartoons from Crumb, Shelton and Williamson, just to name a few, will delight a new generation of pot smokers. Time will tell what contemporary artists will join in the movement.
Sticky buds will alway meet sticky fingers when it comes to being photographed for pot shop menus, so talented and honest shutterbuds… er, bugs, will be in demand. As David Ogilvy, the father of modern Madison Avenue advertising said about product advertising, “show the product and let it sell itself.” He would most probably agree about pot, even though he was also the father of the three martini lunch.
From home pages, to menus, to blogs, a juicy description of different marijuana strains and their effects is an important part of product sales. Those who know how to weave words into a visual of pot effects will find eager customers who can only come up with “Wow! Heavy stuff, man!” to describe the latest shipment of green product.
If one picture is worth a thousand words, a video is an entire set of encyclopedias. Using a mobile phone camera is one thing, but actual top notch video production is a marketing tool that will separate local sales to national and international sales, once that’s made legal.
Will pot shops start their own magazines or cookbooks? Of course! High Times is still a “hero” in the marijuana business and every outlet for client service — and income possibilities are fair considerations. Expect a JK Rowling parody, “Harry Pothead & the Stolen Stash” very soon.
New industry — new opportunities
There’s an urban legend about a man who worked for a horse saddle manufacturer as Henry Ford started churning out automobiles. The man suggested that the company use its tooling for saddles to start manufacturing leather seats for Ford’s autos. As with most innovators, the story goes that he was fired just before the owner of the saddle company did, in fact, approach Ford to supply his car seat needs. The marijuana industry, however, is the small business dream. Those who are at the forefront of growing and supplying will make a quick fortune before the big tobacco companies sweep in to sell pre-packaged joints, and one can safely bet there will be a new ingredient in the recently bankrupt and restarted Twinkie manufacturing company. As with any business opportunity, those who know how to approach, sell and supply the pot dispensary owners with sound marketing plans, great, and effective design solutions, and visuals that entice the public, now free to indulge, will find a quick and growing (no pun intended) income stream. So, start creating those smokin’ samples (yes, pun intended) for your “special portfolio” if you want to get onboard with the next multimillion dollar industry. Just remember the short term memories of your clients when it comes to delivery and billing. Just don’t take out work-for-trade barter agreements. That will remain illegal. Featured image/thumbnail, Medical Cannabis Club via Thomas Hawk.