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"Natural not hippy": How the Ontario Cannabis Store got its logo

“What is the colour of Cannabis?” asks a slideshow presented by the Ontario Cannabis Store logo designers obtained by VICE News.
via LCBO and VICE News

“What is the colour of Cannabis?”

That’s the question posed on one of the slides presented to the Liquor Control Board of Ontario by the ad agency that won its $650,000 contract to design the logo and branding for the Ontario Cannabis Store.

“Not surprisingly, green is the most popular colour within the Cannabis sector,” states a subsequent slide in a presentation by Toronto ad firm Leo Burnett. “It has become a shorthand that quickly conveys the botanical nature of the product.”


As for the branding “palette,” the presentation states it will be “inviting not youthful … sophisticated not stuffy … natural not hippy.”

The slideshow, entitled “Brand Architecture and Naming,” and obtained through a freedom of information request by VICE News, provides an inside look at the branding and marketing efforts behind Ontario’s recreational cannabis shops and e-commerce platform, overseen by the province’s liquor board. The stores will serve Canada’s largest economy after legalization officially comes into effect this October.

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The Ontario Cannabis Store logo — featuring the acronym “OCS” with thin font inside a circle — has been met with mixed reactions since it was revealed in March: ridiculed for being too plain, and also praised for being nothing like the stereotypical trippy fonts and marijuana leaves of many illicit companies in the industry.

The majority of the disclosed presentation, most of which was not disclosed by the LCBO and includes slides from multiple dates this year, contains basic outlines and goals for the Ontario Cannabis Store brand, including typeface examples. Under a “Brand Purpose” heading, a slide states: “From experienced consumers to those curious to try, they not only wanted to be guided and educated to the best product and the safe ways to consumer [grammar error is theirs], but also made to feel accepted for their choice to consume.”


A slide from a presentation given to the LCBO by the ad agency that designed the Ontario Cannabis Store logo.

But a portion of the presentation regarding “photography” shows a number of plants that are not cannabis, yet provides a glimpse for how the substance was pitched to be incorporated into the branding and stores.

“Large still life images of cannabis plants will show the product in a big beautiful way, helping to demystify it,” states a slide. However the images of leaves and plants that follow are not cannabis — in fact they seem to be reproductions of 20th century German artist Karl Blossfeldt, who is known for his close-up photographs of plants, just not cannabis plants.

The first image on the slide appears to be a Blossfeldt image of a “Mediterranean Sea Holly” leaf, while the other appears to be Blossfeldt’s “Canary Grass in Fruit” — a seed-like grain.

Other leaves in the slideshow appear similar to images of the tropical “Monstera deliciosa split leaf philodendron” that appear on a number of Pinterest pages.

An OCS spokesperson wrote in an email that this particular leaf imagery was used as a “creative example of how images might be used in-store. The leaf images, and the recommendations of how they would be displayed in-store, were part of branding ideation work Leo Burnett provided and will not be used in OCS stores or online.”

A slide from a presentation given to the LCBO by the ad agency behind the Ontario Cannabis Store logo.

As for the research related to the logo and branding, the presentation states that the agency conducted a survey of 404 Ontarians over the age of 19, including people who currently consume cannabis, and those who do not currently consume it but would be “willing to consider trying once legal.”

A slide entitled “Brand Personality and Tone” says a “key takeaway” is to “make Ontarians more confident about consumption, it comes down to the brand creating a simple, welcoming and positive environment to learn and make a decision on consuming.”

Canada's recreational cannabis market is set to open on October 17th.