Ontario Cannabis Store Corporate Identity & Branding

Liam Mooney - March 12, 2018

On March 8th the LCBO announced that “Ontario Cannabis Store” would be the name of Ontario’s new cannabis agency including its online and physical store locations. Along with the name, was a first look at the visual elements of this new corporate identity. I’ve been apart of two major Cannabis branding projects at Jackpine Dynamic Branding (developed the corporate identity for Hydropothecary, and redesigned the website for Cannabis Canada Association) and wanted to share some quick thoughts:

Identity breakdown

Black and white. Word/abbreviation driven. No frills or decoration. You might describe the visual identity as austere. Lazy or purposeful? It’s very intentional:

“The name is designed to convey a safe, simple and approachable environment for consumers, and agency employees, in a clear and easily understood manner…We are confident the brand name and logo will help ensure Ontarians are able to safely and easily identify Ontario Cannabis Stores as the sole legal retailer of non-medical cannabis in Ontario.”


This visual identity will likely help deliver on those objectives. Many brands that I’ve worked with in this space want to reframe elements of cannabis visuals to purposely avoid typical motifs and visual language associated with cannabis.

Making a formerly illicit drug available to the masses will require a lot of education and steps to ensure public safety (I don’t want to sound like a NARC, but governments and their agencies have a responsibility to keep people safe). This identity will allow for information and the product to be the focal point of communication.

The icon will likely work well and the brand of OCS will come to be associated with reliable information, quality product and excellent service in the minds of those become regular customers (that said, many people will stay in the underground because in their view: price and quality will always be better there).

Online / Brick & Mortar

This corporate identity signals that this brand will be minimal-fresh online and instore. I hate this trope, but the identity evokes feelings of the Apple Store experience. This is where OCS has a tremendous opportunity: justify the premium in price with premium experience that stands in stark contrast to buying from a dealer in the underground.

With (e-)commerce leader Shopify managing the in-store POS and online platform, consumers can likely expect a fluid, omni-channel retail-shopping experience.

Global brands like Proctor and Gamble are cutting digital spending and overall marketing spend by $2 billion in the next 5 years – brands are allocating capital AWAY from pre-purchase (ie. marketing) and into the Purchase and Post-Purchase phases of brand building. I would expect that OCS will try to create an exceptional store/retail experience to build positive associations with the OCS brand.

Government Constraints

Like every client file, there are constraints. In this case, a government-run monopoly becoming a drug dealer for the first time has its challenges. Naturally, the brief was likely focused on creating an identity that would lead to a brand associated with ideas like: safe, reliable, clean, and trustworthy. In stark contrast to some of the cannabis dispensary “experiences” out there today.


Anytime an identity uses an abbreviation or acronym for its name there are some important questions to consider:

  1. Can it be hijacked or make things worse? (That time British Petroleum changed to Beyond Petroleum)
  2. Are you losing brand equity by making this change? Renaming Harley Davison to HD would likely not work too well for example.
  3. Does it simplify or enhance what consumer already know of you? (see examples below).
  4. Can it help distance you from a problematic name and allow the company to generate new, positive associations for the brand?


In 1990 the state of Kentucky asked for licensing fees for any brand and corporate identity using the state’s name. To avoid paying those fees, the then Kentucky Fried Chicken switched to the abbreviation that people had already used for years: KFC.

In the 1950’s the Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company dropped its lengthy name in favour of 3M – a brand that has become synonymous with innovation.

Hiring a holding company

In their announcement, the LCBO mentioned that Leo Burnett, part of the Publicis Group delivered the name, identity and other collateral for $650,000. Many have scoffed at the amount paid, but the package of deliverables was likely more than enough to justify the cost, especially at a firm like Leo Burnett.

A quick scan of my LinkedIn profile shows that 10 people I know and have worked with in advertising over the years currently work at or have worked at Leo Burnett. What I am about to say is in no way a criticism of them or even the quality of work at Leo Burnett.

Did you know that hiring an agency like Leo Burnett, owned by a global holding group like Publicis, means that a percentage (10%-20% in many cases I am told) of the job goes to a foreign-owned multi-national right off the top? That money doesn’t stay in Ontario or Canada. It goes directly into the coffers of a giant ad network in a model that is showing major signs of slow down.

I find it hard to believe that the LCBO couldn’t find any Ontario-based, reliable, creative independently owned agencies and branding studios to deliver the same thoughtful and creative work. It makes no sense to me that potentially $65,000-$130,000 of this job was shipped directly to a multi-national holding company based in France before a creative somewhere in Toronto read a brief and picked up a pencil.

If there’s one thing to criticize in all of this it’s this. It doesn’t sit well with me and it shouldn’t sit well with you.