What will the most meaningful cannabis brands of the future look like? How will we consume them, and what will they taste like? What will make them tick, and what will drive their customers’ loyalty? How will these brands’ products make us feel, both in the retail environment and after consumption?
It’s a conversation we’re constantly having at Grasslands — with our colleagues, our clients, and our strategic partners. Because if you’re not strategically looking to the near and far future, you’re going in the wrong direction.
It was during one of these conversations when I posed the question to my team, “What current cannabis brands will still be around — still playing a meaningful role in mainstream consumer packaged goods — ten years from now?”
Our ideation started with some ground rules. “How are we defining this hypothetical?” I got us started: “These brands are relevant now, and they will be more relevant a decade from now.” Chief Marketing Officer Jesse Burns chimed in with some further parameters: “Let’s really focus on ‘bigger-pie’ brands — those that can help mainstream cannabis without using the word normalize.”
As with everything else at our marketing agency, the conversation started in meandering ideation, an internal team refined it into a specific structure, and then we threw suggestions at the wall until we had the kernel of an idea.
And here we are.
With a nod to my talented colleagues for the ideation assist, here are five meaningful brands we’ll still be celebrating a decade from now.
The most important brands in the world all start with a compelling narrative, and Charlotte’s Web is no different. Named after Charlotte Figi and her history-altering experience with cannabis — as documented in Sanjay Gupta’s Weed documentary on CNN — this brand owns up to its trademarked tagline, “the world’s most trusted hemp extract.”
Powered by unmatched name recognition, clean branding, and head-turning activations — including the powerful, Clio Grand-winning Trust the Earth collaboration with artist Shepard Fairey and others — Charlotte’s Web is a leading brand that was, is, and will continue to be synonymous with hemp, CBD, and changing the global conversation about cannabis.
Cookies is a lifestyle brand. Cookies is a cannabis brand. Cookies is a fashion brand, a genetics brand, an artist brand, and a functional-mushrooms brand.
All of this is true, and proving that point: As of 2021, Cookies was the first cannabis brand to crack AdAge’s Hottest Brands list, when the cannabis juggernaut joined the likes of Reddit, DraftKings, and Cheetos on one of the most desirable brand acknowledgments in the world.
Think about the distinction in the brand’s mark — and the brand itself. Cookies’ power is deeper and more authentic than something that was dreamed up on Madison Avenue. The brand is for the people, by the people — authentic to the core, kings of drop culture, and Latino-owned.
Sometimes the human is the brand. And when that human is Calvin Broadus Jr., the rapper / actor / stoner / entrepreneur / investor / TV personality / pitchman better known as Snoop Dogg, the dude is one helluva brand.
Getting back to the “bigger-pie” marketing theory mentioned earlier: Snoop Dogg is openly smoking weed on the field of the Super Bowl and co-hosting television shows with some of the biggest, most mainstream stars across the broadcast spectrum — Idol-esque series with Kelly Clarkson, Olympics highlights shows with Kevin Hart, and the Puppy Bowl (and more) with Martha Fucking Stewart.
Snoop is making the pie, and he’s also making the pie bigger — cracking into new markets and changing stoner stereotypes
I’ll always remember these two lines of Steve Jobs’ 2005 Commencement address to Stanford graduates: “Your work is going to fill a large part of your life, and the only way to be truly satisfied is to do what you believe is great work. And the only way to do great work is to love what you do.” I live these words every day, and I’m guessing Puffco founder Roger Volodarsky does too.
Roger is a concentrates aficionado, and he makes the kind of consumption gear he wanted to see in the world. When Puffco released the Plus vape pen in 2016, the slender metal device impressed hard-to-impress vaporizer critic Ben Livingston, who reviewed vapes for The Cannabist after I launched the publication in 2013. “Design is an iterative process,” Livingston wrote, “and the Puffco Plus is a positive forward step in the evolution of cannabis consumer technology.”
I’d argue the same is true of Puffco these six years later.
As an advocacy organization, NORML’s work is iconic. As a brand, NORML’s mark is iconic.
Few organizations have walked the walk and fought the good fight as long as NORML, which has been pushing back against prohibition since 1970.
Because brands benefit from compelling spokespeople, NORML benefits from TV host and travel book author Rick Steves, who is the chair of the nonprofit organization’s board of directors and calls his work at NORML “a civic duty.” As Steves wrote in an essay outlining the important work ahead as chair: “At NORML, we understand how working to end our government’s unjust and unproductive laws against marijuana is flat-out good citizenship.”
Good citizenship is timeless, and I am confident I will still be celebrating the NORML brand a decade from now.
Named one of Fortune’s “7 Most Powerful People in America’s Marijuana Industry,” Ricardo Baca is a twenty-five-year veteran journalist, Clio Award winner and juror, keynote speaker, two-time TEDx veteran, Marketer of the Year, and drug policy futurist. He served as The Denver Post’s first-ever Marijuana Editor, and in 2016 he launched cannabis marketing and PR agency Grasslands to supercharge business leaders in cannabis, psychedelics, and technology.